South Korea to start operating the world’s first green shipping route

South Korea is embarking on an ambitious project to establish the world’s first green shipping route. The initiative will be spearheaded by HMM which is currently developing 9,000 TEU methanol-fueled container ships. At a recent seminar, Lee Chi-kyung, Secretary of Maritime Industry Technology at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, announced that with the goal of pilot operation in 2027, this green shipping route will connect South Korea’s Busan and Ulsan ports with Seattle and Tacoma in the US. These ships were ordered in February 2023 from Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries and HJ Shipbuilding and Construction, with delivery scheduled between 2025 and 2026.

The European Union (EU) has introduced the Carbon Emission Trading System (EU ETS) for ships over 5,000 gt operating in EU ports starting this year. Under the EU ETS, companies must buy credits for 40% of their emissions this year, 70% in 2025, and 100% after 2026. As a result, 137 South Korean-owned ships operating in EU waters will face environmental costs exceeding US$500 million from this year to 2030.

During the opening ceremony of Busan New Port Pier 7, a fully automated port, in April, President Yoon Seok-yeol declared that Busan would be the start and end point of a green shipping route that aims to reach zero carbon emissions throughout the entire maritime transportation process by making use of carbon-free fuel and technology. Ports along this route will be equipped with infrastructure to supply carbon-free fuel.

Based on the preliminary feasibility study, the South Korean government decided to develop the Busan-Seattle-Tacoma route as a green corridor for methanol-fueled container ships and the Ulsan-Masan-Seattle-Tacoma route for methanol-fueled car carriers.

Seattle and Tacoma merged into the Northwest Seaport Alliance in 2015. The South Korean government plans to form a consortium of shipping and bunker suppliers to deliver clean fuels such as green methanol and e-methanol, with pilot operations set to begin in 2027.