(NORTH BERGEN, N.J.) — Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), has a message to any shipping companies planning to utilize autonomous container cargo ships without crew: Don’t sail them into ILA ports from Maine To Texas, Puerto Rico and eastern Canada – they won’t be unloaded or loaded by ILA members.
Media reports in recent weeks have featured stories from Norway and Japan about companies and shipping lines developing and testing container vessels that will sail with no crew aboard – “fully self-piloted, relying on satellite guidance, onboard sensors and artificial intelligence making decisions based on these inputs,” according to a Facebook posting by Seably, a European maritime online training company.
Seably reported on Sept. 3 about plans by Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, also known as NYK, Japan’s largest shipping company, to send “a cargo ship 236 miles from Tokyo to the port of Ise.” The vessel will have no crew on board, according to the report.
Days earlier, cable news channel CNN featured a report on a Norwegian company, Yara International, and its plans to test an autonomous ship by sailing it between two Norwegian cities.
“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,” said Daggett. “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.”
As ILA president, Daggett negotiated a six-year agreement for tens of thousands of ILA members with United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) in 2018 that prevented any automation or automated equipment at ILA ports. In exchange, the ILA pledged to keep productivity levels above what automated equipment could produce.
“The ILA will not work a containership without a crew aboard,” said the ILA leader. “Already one company developing these automated ships are also plans for automated loading and unloading of cargo from these crewless ships without workers. That’s not going to happen under my watch.”
The current ILA contract expires in three years, and Daggett said he will continue to keep his members protected from the threat of automation.
“We will continue to negotiate for no automation or automated equipment at ILA ports,” said Daggett. “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.”
The ILA leader hopes all U.S. maritime unions join the ILA in refusing to allow autonomous container vessels.
– International Longshoremen’s Association