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According to the rulebook combat will take place if ships that belong to two or more players finish in the same hex.

Does combat always have to take place? Is there no rule that allows ships to pass each other without fighting? What if you are in a diplomatic relationship with another player?

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Combat will always take place. If you are in a diplomatic relationship with another player, that relationship is broken the moment one player enters a hex occupied by the other player. This is covered on p11 of the rules:

Your Diplomatic relations stay in effect until the end of the game, unless you attack one of the players you have Diplomatic relations with, or they attack you. Moving your Ships to a hex where the other player has a disc or a Ship is also considered an attack. Both players then return the Ambassador Tiles and cubes to the owner. The cube goes back to a Population Track, chosen freely by the owner

There is no possible way to pass through a player's hex without any combat, because of pinning. p14 says:

If your Ships move into a hex, or out from a hex, containing other players’ or Ancient Ships, at least one Ship per each opposing Ship must stay (the Ship is said to be "pinned") and engage in combat in the Combat Phase

So the only way you can move a ship through another player's hex is if you already have 1 ship in that hex per opponent's ship in that hex.

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