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transportation of passengers and goods on waterways. From prehistoric times shipping has had a major influence on human social development. Water routes, unlike roads, did not need building, and the difficulties and dangers were less than those offered by mountains, marshes, and enemy tribes. Therefore many early civilizations developed on navigable rivers or on the coasts of warm seas.

Shipping in Ancient Times

Ancient peoples famous for their shipping enterprises include the Phoenicians, the Cretans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The shipping routes of those highly civilized peoples were chiefly in the Mediterranean, but their voyages extended to India, along the Atlantic coast of Africa, and to Britain, where tin was secured. The goods shipped consisted largely of luxuries, including spices, perfumes, and such fine pottery as the famous Athenian ware; but shipments of grain became important as cities grew in size.

Shipping in the Commercial Revolution

The great modern merchant marines (national fleets of commercial ships) first appeared in the commercial revolution. Leaders in shipping included the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the Venetians. The activities of mariners of SW Europe included discovery and conquest in the New World. In the 13th and 14th cent. the Hanseatic LeagueHanseatic League
, mercantile league of medieval German towns. It was amorphous in character; its origin cannot be dated exactly. Originally a Hansa was a company of merchants trading with foreign lands.
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 built up a great trading and fishing fleet, while the Italian city-republics developed marine insurance on modern lines. England's shipping industry was associated with colonization, with the development of manufacturing, and especially with leadership in the Industrial Revolution. The greatest competitors of the British were the French and the Dutch. Both were vanquished in war and strangled in peace by the British Navigation ActsNavigation Acts,
in English history, name given to certain parliamentary legislation, more properly called the British Acts of Trade. The acts were an outgrowth of mercantilism, and followed principles laid down by Tudor and early Stuart trade regulations.
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The introduction of slave labor into the American colonies made the slave trade one of the most profitable branches of shipping for two centuries. America's vast resources in timber provided an advantage in building wooden ships, and swift sailing vessels of American design, such as the schooner and the clipper, dominated shipping until the mid-19th cent. The introduction of steel steamships enabled Great Britain to reassume the chief place in shipbuilding and shipping.

Shipping in the Twentieth Century

From about 1900 until World War I, Germany held second place in the world in both navy and merchant marine, and its challenge to Great Britain's domination of the sea was an important cause of the war. In the period between the two world wars the principal maritime nations were Great Britain and its dominions, the United States, Japan, Norway, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and France. The United States merchant marine steadily declined, and in order to stimulate shipbuilding the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 created the U.S. Maritime Commission. At the beginning of World War II in Europe, U.S. shipping, handicapped by the Neutrality ActNeutrality Act,
law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Aug., 1935. It was designed to keep the United States out of a possible European war by banning shipment of war matériel to belligerents at the discretion of the President
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, again declined. American vessels were diverted to trade outside the war zones and many were transferred to other flags, mainly the Panamanian.

After the entry of the United States into the war (Dec., 1941), a huge shipbuilding program rapidly got under way, and standardized vessels were turned out by assembly-line methods. A brief period of United States dominance in world shipping followed the war. Subsequently, however, the U.S. merchant marine again declined steadily; as the expense of American labor and ship construction increased, the cost of operation went beyond competitive levels, despite the fact that the American shipping industry was receiving a large subsidy from the federal government.

Since the 1960s, U.S. ports have modernized their facilities by automating operations, installing computerized tracking systems, and handling containers ("intermodal shipping") that can be transferred directly to truck trailers or rail cars. Older facilities that do not have the room to handle containerized shipping have declined. These changes have greatly reduced the number of jobs in the shipping industry.

Much of the cargo formerly carried in American vessels and in those of other major nations is now carried by so-called flag of convenience fleets. Such lines arose with the tendency of large shippers, especially those of Greece and the United States, to avoid the high taxes of their home countries by registering their ships in low-tax nations such as Panama and Liberia. In 1998 about 1.08 trillion tons of goods were imported to or exported from the United States by ship, but vessels flying the U.S. flag handled only 3% of that shipping.

See also shipship,
large craft in which persons and goods may be conveyed on water. In the U.S. Navy the term boat refers to any vessel that is small enough to be hoisted aboard a ship, and ship
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; maritime lawmaritime law,
system of law concerning navigation and overseas commerce. Because ships sail from nation to nation over seas no nation owns, nations need to seek agreement over customs related to shipping.
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See J. Hornell, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution (1946, repr. 1970); B. Landstrom, The Ship: An Illustrated History (1983); R. George, Ninety Percent of Everything (2013).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of transportation of products (the conveyance of freight and passengers in ships). It is extensively used on international and domestic (coastal) routes.

The history of shipping begins in about the sixth to fourth millennia B.C., when it became necessary for man to study and conquer the sea. The first maritime vessels were propelled by oars. The sail was invented in about the third millennium B.C. and was the principal means of ship propulsion for many centuries. From the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D., mari-time trade between the Mediterranean countries and India and China assumed considerable scope.

The tribes that inhabited the territory of the USSR began to travel by water on the Baltic and Black seas. By the ninth century the Eastern Slavs were using water routes on the Black and Caspian seas, the Pomor’e Slavs were traveling to England, and the South Slavs were sailing the Mediterranean. Russian seamen investigated and conquered the coast of the Arctic Ocean in the early 17th century and moved on to the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk and the other Far Eastern seas in the mid-17th century.

Shipping developed particularly rapidly in Russia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in connection with the reforms of Peter I. Trade with the West was activated through Arkhangel’sk. With the founding of St. Petersburg in 1703, the center of trade shifted to the Baltic Sea. Commercial navigation also developed on the Black Sea, where the important ports of Kherson (1778), Sevastopol’ (1784), and Odessa (1794) were built. In the 19th century, steamships appeared and supplanted sailing ships. In the early 20th century, Russia was the first to build motor ships; the earliest of them were river vessels (the Vandal 1903), and they were followed by ocean going ships (the Delo, 1908). Specialized transport vessels were built for shipping ore, lumber, perishable cargo, and petroleum. However, snipping in prerevolutionary Russia was on the whole poorly developed. There was little coastal shipping, and export-import shipping was done primarily on foreign vessels. In 1913 the merchant fleet was about 100 million register tons, or about 2 percent of total world tonnage. Most loading work in the ports was done manually.

Shipping has improved as industrial production has grown and international trade has expanded. The development of equipment for shipping has relied on advances in all sectors of industry, particularly power engineering and machine building. The steam engine made possible construction of the first self-propelled vessels with mechanical engines (steamships); they were followed by motor ships with internal-combustion engines and atomic vessels powered by nuclear reactors. Present-day oceangoing vessels are complex engineering structures with cargo capacities of up to 500,000 tons and power plants of more than 73.6 megawatts (MW), or 100,000 hp, in some cases. The vessels are equipped with complex electrical and radio navigation instruments and automatic monitoring and regulating units, including computers.

Shipping plays an important role in domestic trade and particularly in foreign trade. It accounts for more than 80 percent of international freight turnover (1973). International shipping has increased from 550 million tons in 1950 to 2,707 billion tons in 1971. More than half of this volume is liquid cargo (mainly crude oil). The distance of shipping runs is increasing significantly. For example, the average distance of a petroleum shipment in 1960 was 3,000 nautical miles (5,550 km), whereas in 1970 it was 4,950 nautical miles (9,150 km). This reflects not only the uneven distribution of natural resources and of the processing industry but also fundamental changes in the international division of labor resulting from the rapid development of the economy of the socialist countries and the collapse of the colonial system, which brought about changes in the dimensions and directions of freight flows. These factors have created the objective prerequisites for high rates of growth in the merchant marine. In 1950 the world maritime fleet consisted of 30,852 vessels (total gross capacity, 84.6 million tons), and as of July 1, 1972, there were 57,391 vessels (268.3 million tons; see Table 1), including 6,462 tankers with a total capacity of 188.5 million tons.

Shipping vessels are divided into passenger, dry-cargo, tanker, and auxiliary ships. In the 1960’s new types of dry-cargo vessels appeared, among which a distinction is made between general-purpose and specialized ships. The general-purpose vessels are used for transporting item-packed (general) goods, lumber, and, to some extent, bulk cargo. They have large deck openings (up to 70–80 percent of the width of the vessel) to improve loading and unloading conditions. The internal outlines are made as rectangular as possible, so that they can transport large-tonnage containers. Such vessels are sometimes outfitted with refrigerator holds for transporting small quantities of perishable goods and tanks for liquid cargo. The most common specialized vessels are the bulk carriers (designed for transporting bulk cargo), with the engine room located in the stern, with wide hatches, and with devices that ensure safe shipping and rapid loading and unloading. The average deadweight of bulk carriers in 1972 was almost double that of 1950, having reached 38,000 tons; the maximum deadweight was 170,000 tons, and the average speed was about 15 knots (27.8 km/hr).

Tankers occupy a special place. Between 1950 and 1972 their average size increased by a factor of 17. The largest tanker in the world (1973) is the Globtik Tokyo, with a deadweight of 477,000 tons, a length of 379 m, a width of 62 m, a main engine (steam turbine) of 33 MW (45,000 hp), and a speed of 15 knots. The desire to increase the efficiency of use of tankers and bulk carriers led to the creation of combined vessels, called OBO’s (“oil-bulk-ore”), which carry oil or petroleum products in one direction and return carrying ore or other bulk cargo (grain, raw sugar, and so on), thus reducing or completely eliminating crossings in ballast. As of July 1, 1972, the bulk carrier fleet (including OBO’s) consisted of 3,048 vessels of 106.9 million register tons.

Highly efficient shipping systems have been built. Among them are containerships, LASH (lighter-aboard-ship) vessels, and towed barges. As of July 1, 1972, 312 containerships, with a total capacity of about 200,000 20-foot standard (ISO) containers, and 89 semicontainer carriers, with a total capacity of 19,000 containers, were in service. The deadweight of individual ships of this type had reached 30,000 tons, and their speed was 19–24 knots (35.2-44.4 km/hr). Containerships with capacities of up to 2,000-3,000 containers and speeds of 27–33 knots (50-61 km/hr) are being built.

Roll-on/roll-off ships with horizontal loading and unloading appeared in the second half of the 1960’s. As of July 1, 1972, there were more than 200 such ships in maritime transport with a deadweight of 1,000-20,300 tons and a speed of 12–25 knots (22.2-46.2 km/hr). The LASH carriers are designed to transport freight on lighters (barges) weighing 500–1,000 tons which load the freight in the roadstead under their own power, making possible an increase in the productivity of loading work by a factor of 5–10 in comparison with the conventional general-purpose vessel, and also a reduction in capital expenditures. The Seabee type was considered the most efficient LASH carrier (1972); up to 2,480 tons per hr may be loaded onto or unloaded from it (the figure for a present-day containership is 600 tons per hr). Since 1960 there has been a significant increase in maritime shipments of liquefied gas. In 1972 there were 329 gas tankers in operation, with a total capacity of 1.96 million cu m.

Numerous vessels of various types and designs, which make up the auxiliary and technical fleet and are used for towing, emergency and rescue, bottom dredging, icebreaking, and other jobs in support of navigation, are also part of shipping. The icebreakers occupy a special place in this category. The USSR has the largest icebreaker fleet in the world. The world’s largest icebreaker and the first atomic-powered ship was the Lenin (1959), with an actual shaft power of 32.3 MW (44,000 hp). A new atomic-powered ship, the Arktika, with an actual power of 55 MW (75,000 hp), was under construction in the USSR as of 1974. Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and the USA also have icebreaker fleets.

Shipping includes ports, which are the transportation centers where freight is transferred from one form of transportation to another and the fleet is serviced; ship repair enterprises, which are equipped with ship hoists (docks and slips); and communications and signaling equipment. As of Jan. 1, 1973, there were more than 7,000 seaports, including more than 500 with freight turnover of more than 1 million tons per year. The total volume of freight loaded and unloaded at the world’s ports increased from 3.35 billion tons in 1965 to 5.349 billion tons in 1971. Turnover increased from 1.835 billion tons to 2.894 billion tons at ports of the industrially developed capitalist countries, from 1.339 billion tons to 2.193 billion tons at ports of the developing countries, and from 176 million tons to 262 million tons at ports of the socialist countries.

A characteristic trend in the development of shipping in the industrially developed capitalist countries is the concentration of freight flows and expansion of ports. For example, France has about 300 ports, but 87.3 percent of the country’s freight turnover passes through six ports; Japan has 1,062 ports, and 35 percent of the freight turnover passes through 11 ports. In the USA, 20.9 percent of the foreign-trade freight turnover passes through the port of New York. Shipping enterprises are growing in size and merging with industrial, financial, trade, and other companies; big capitalists are penetrating the national shipping lines of the developing countries; international monopolistic associations are being created for line and container shipping; and state participation in shipping is broadening. In the race for superprofits through reductions in costs, above all by exploiting the labor of seamen, there is a growing tendency for large shipping companies and shipowners to register their vessels under “flags of convenience,” such as Liberia, Panama, and Honduras. Thus, shipowners receive significant advantages, both in registration and taxation during operation of the ship and in the form of simplified, purely formal requirements for seaworthiness and the protection of human life at sea and rudimentary or completely lacking social and labor legislation for seamen. Since 1949, American and Greek shipowners, later followed by others, have been actively registering their vessels in Liberia, a country that has virtually no fleet of its own but “occupies” first place in the world in terms of tonnage (see Table 1).

From 1950 to 1972, the ships sailing under the flags of the 13 traditional sea powers (Great Britain, the USA, Japan, Norway, Greece, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and Belgium) increased in tonnage from 68.8 million to 161.6 million; including the flags of convenience of Liberia and Panama, the total reaches 213.8 million tons, or 80 percent of the entire world maritime fleet. This situation permits these countries to control virtually all shipping in the capitalist world and, by taking advantage of the system of organizational forms of international navigation that they have created, to reap superprofits. International associations for line navigation, the navigation line conferences, are created for main maritime trade routes with stable freight flows. The largest of these conferences bring together dozens of companies from various countries.

In the USSR, shipping is a constituent part of the country’s integrated transport network. It is owned by the state. It consists of the state self-financed associations luzhflot, Sevzapflot, and Dal’flot and their steamship lines, ports, and shipyards, forming sectors of the national economy associated with the corresponding sea basins; enterprises and organizations engaged in emergency rescue and dredging work, headed by the all-Union association Sovsudopod”em; organizations engaged in chartering and agent service, operating as part of the all-Union associations Sovfrakht and Sovinflot and under their direction; enterprises engaged in trade, food service, and supply of materials

Table 1. World merchant marine (ships with gross capacity of 100 register tons and more)1
 NumberThousand reg. tonsNumberThousand reg. tonsNumberThousand reg. tonsSteamshipsMotor ships
NumberThousand reg. tonsNumberThousand reg. tons
1According to data of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, Statistical Tables, as of July 1, 1972 2According to data of Register of the USSR as of July 1, 1972, including fishing fleet
Japan1 ,4991,8711,7703,7359,43334,9291938,6429,24026,287
Great Britain6,06018,2195,63219,3573,70028,62565014,2283,05014,397
USSR9672,1251,1582,5066,79321 6,29126532,5026,14013,789
Greece3861,3493501,2452,24115,3282923,9231,9491 1 ,405
Federal Republic of Germany1,1064601,8852,6442,5468,516791,6622,4676,854
France1 ,2343,2071,2203,9221,3907,420752,9411,3154,479
Netherlands1 ,5303,1091,7163,6961,4524,972761,7041,3763,268
Yugoslavia1032151663003641 ,58811443531,544
German Democratic Republic3699143641,0433431,40187550256851
People’s Republic of China2861,181105317181864
Table 2. Development of shipping in the USSR
 Unit of measurement194019501960196519701971
1 1 nautical mile = 1.852 km
Source: TsSU: lubileinyi sbornik narodnogo khoziaistva SSSR 1922–1972 gg., pp. 301–02
Freight turnoverbillion tons/naut. mile112.821.471.0209.9354.3375.8
Freight shippedmillion tons31.233.775.9119.3161.9170.9
Average distance of shipment of a ton of freightnautical miles4116369351,7592,1882,199
Cruising speed of ships dry-cargonautical miles per day175188241285315318
tankernautical miles per day211213272327333332
Labor productivity per shipping workerthousand calculated ton/km1,4141,6182,7745,5937,6357,870
Level of mechanization of loadingpercent65.590.799.4100100100
Level of integrated mechanization of loadingpercent68.580.585.487.1

and machinery; higher, secondary, and vocational-technical schools, which train workers for the fleet and on-shore enterprises; and scientific research and planning-design institutes and bureaus. Shipping is administered by the Ministry of the Merchant Marine of the USSR.

Shipping is steadily growing in importance because of the exceptional economy of shipment of the most varied freight in the coastal regions of the Soviet Union, whose maritime shoreline extends for more than 60,000 nautical miles (111,000 km) and whose sea borders are twice as long as its land borders. Large quantities of raw materials and industrial and agricultural pro-ducts are shipped in coastal navigation in the Sea of Azov-Black Sea, Caspian Sea, and Baltic Sea basins. Shipping is decisive in satisfying consumer demand and in the economic development of the Far East and North, where it provides almost the only means of transporting freight on a large scale. The economic development of the resource-rich regions of the Far North, Primor’e, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and Kamchatka depends directly on the provision of stable, regular shipping. Shipping plays a particularly important and ever-growing role in the development of Soviet foreign trade, since most of the export-import cargo in intercontinental trade can only be shipped by sea. In 1972, sailings to foreign countries accounted for 91 percent of the freight turnover; vessels of the Soviet merchant marine made about 27,000 voyages to more than 1,000 ports in 109 countries. Shipping accounts for more than 50 percent of the foreign-trade freight turnover of the USSR. The main economic indicators of shipping in the USSR are shown in Table 2.

In 1971, Soviet shipping surpassed shipping under the United States flag in terms of freight turnover. In 1960 the Soviet merchant marine was 11th in tonnage; in 1973 it was fifth (and third for the freight-passenger fleet). In 1972 the Soviet merchant marine had 6.2 percent of world tonnage, and its share of international maritime shipments was 4.2 percent.

During the ninth five-year plan (1971-75), shipping continued to develop. Highly economical general-purpose and specialized ships with fully automated control of ship mechanisms and systems, among them vessels for transporting large-tonnage containers, equipment, and perishable goods, are being added to the fleet. The throughput capacity of seaports is being increased, and ports are being equipped with specialized complexes with a high level of mechanization and automation of production processes for loading and unloading containers, bulk cargo, and lumber. The capacity of shipyards and other fleet service bases is increasing. Special attention is being devoted to further refinement of control in planning, using mathematical methods and computer technology. This was the goal of work begun during the eighth five-year plan (1966-70) toward the creation of an automatic control system for shipping, called ASU-Morflot, based on the Main Computer Center of the ministry and the computer centers of the steamship lines, by expanding the range of problems solved by the automatic control system, starting with the particular problems of optimum planning and moving on to more complex and comprehensive problems, which will make possible evaluation of the economic effect of operational decisions and the key questions of scientific and technical progress in real time.

The policy of the Soviet state toward shipping is based on socialist ownership of the means of production, planned economic management, and a state monopoly on the chartering of vessels. It begins with the problems of satisfying the country’s need for domestic and foreign shipping and protecting its interests in international navigation, and it is directed at development of fraternal cooperation with the socialist countries, at support for the developing countries, and at the establishment of mutually advantageous business contacts in navigation with the capitalist countries according to the Leninist principles of peaceful coexistence by states belonging to opposing sociopolitical systems. At the same time, the policy takes into account the fact that the development of shipping is a key factor in the economic competition between the two world systems.

The Soviet Union has intergovernmental agreements on navigation with many countries. The agreements record the intent of the parties to lend all possible support to freedom of navigation, to develop bilateral business contacts, and to assist in accelerating and improving maritime shipments. In accordance with these agreements, the ships of both parties are given an opportunity to participate in shipping under equal trade conditions and to enjoy the same privileges that each country extends to its own ships in ports with respect to loading and unloading, service, and payment of port fees.

The USSR is conducting cooperative work with the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) on questions of rational use of the fleet, coordination of charter activities in order more fully to satisfy the demand for shipping at minimum cost, increasing the efficiency of foreign trade, and improvement of the balance of payments of the member countries. This work is conducted on the basis of the Comprehensive Program for the Further Extension and Promotion of Cooperation and Development of Socialist Economic Integration Among the Members of COMECON.

Representatives of shipowners in a number of socialist countries signed an agreement in Sopot, Poland, in 1970 forming the International Shipowners’ Association (INSA); the association was joined by shipowning enterprises in Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Poland, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. In 1972, shipowning organizations in Cuba and India joined the association. The new international navigation organization has set as its goal the promotion of the development of cooperation among navigation enterprises and the protection of their interests in international maritime navigation. The Agreement on Cooperation in Merchant Marine Navigation, which was signed in December 1971 in Budapest by Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR, Poland, Rumania, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia, promotes strengthening and expansion of mutually advantageous ties.

The Soviet Union participates in international organizations, such as the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), and the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Shipping in the socialist countries is developing rapidly. The most modern fleets belong to the Polish People’s Republic (617 vessels, 2,013,000 register tons; 50 percent of the tonnage is intended for general cargo), the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (364 vessels, 1,588,000 register tons; 60 percent intended for shipping general cargo), and the GDR (436 vessels, 1,198,000 register tons; 52 percent for shipping general cargo). As of July 1, 1972, the total tonnage of the merchant marines of the socialist countries, including the USSR, was 24.5 million register tons, or 9.2 percent of world tonnage.


Marx, K. Kapital vol. 2, ch. 6. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol 24.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ na III Vserossiiskom s”ezde rabochikh vodnogo transporta 15 marta 1920 g.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 40.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ na Vserossiiskom s”ezde transportnykh rabochikh 27 marta 1921 g.” Ibid., vol. 43.
Programma Kommunisticheskoi partii Sovetskogo Soiuza. Moscow, 1973.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Transport i sviaz’ SSSR: Statisticheskii sb. Moscow, 1972.
Nadtochii, G. Geografiia morskikh putei. Moscow, 1972.
Vneshniaia torgovlia SSSR za 1972 god: Statisticheskii obzor. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(naval architecture)
A term applied collectively to those ships which are used to transport personnel or cargo, or both; often modified to denote type, use, or force to which assigned.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a. the business of transporting freight, esp by ship
b. (as modifier): a shipping magnate
a. ships collectively
b. the tonnage of a number of ships
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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