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ILA says won’t work automated vessels at US ports
American Shipper
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Members of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) would not service automated container ships if they were to ever call on US East and Gulf Coast ports, ILA’s chief said Tuesday, staking out the union’s stance on robotic technology as maritime automation projects gain ground across the globe.

ILA president Harold Daggett said in a statement that any autonomous ships calling on ports under the ILA’s jurisdiction “won’t be unloaded or loaded by ILA members.” Daggett said the various automation projects around the world threaten the job security of the maritime workforce.

“Workers around the world are under assault from the threat of automation by greedy companies only interested in making money and eliminating workers who helped them build their success and companies,” Daggett said. “It’s got to stop, and my ILA will do what it needs to do to save our jobs and the jobs of maritime workers around the world.”

An ILA spokesperson said there are no autonomous vessels scheduled to call on the US. Instead, the ILA’s stance on autonomous shipping technology is a reaction to various projects taking place overseas.

Norwegian chemical and fertilizer company Yara International plans the first live test later this year of an autonomous vessel that it developed with Kongsberg Maritime, according to CNN. The Yara Birkeland will carry about 100 containers between two Norwegian ports without a crew onboard.

Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha is expected in February 2022 to trial an autonomous cargo ship that will sail 230 miles between Japanese ports, according to The Times of London.

In North America, most of the automation efforts have focused on landside operations. Total Terminals International wants to become the fourth marine terminal in Southern California to use automation technology for container handling. Maersk’s venture capital arm invested this year in a company that is developing self-driving trucks used in container yards.

The ILA said preventing further incursions of automation technology into maritime work will take support from other dockworker unions, adding it was hoping the International Dockworkers Council would also take a similar public stance.

“The ILA will not work a container ship without a crew aboard,” Daggett said in the statement. “Now more than ever, dockworkers from around the world, joined by all maritime workers, must unite to fight this important battle against automation.”

The ILA said in its statement that it will keep negotiating against the use of automation technology at marine terminals on the East and US Gulf coasts when the union’s current master contract expires in 2024. It said it has met its side of the current contract by keeping productivity levels at marine terminals “above what automated equipment could produce.”

“We will continue to negotiate for no automation, or automated equipment at ILA ports,” Daggett said.  “And we are going to demand no semi-automated equipment be allowed.  The ILA has learned that even allowing semi-automated equipment is the path for companies to slowly eliminate our jobs.”

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