Six international ocean carriers whose cargos include fresh produce have become the first participants in a clean air program offering them incentives for berthing at the Port of Los Angeles.

Hamburg Süd North America Inc., Hapag-Lloyd AG, Maersk Line, Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Yang Ming and Evergreen have all signed on for the port’s Environmental Ship Index.

“These are newer ships that have the latest engine technology and fewer emissions than the old,” said Marcel Van Dijk, business development manager at the Port of Los Angeles.

Operators earn from $250 to $5,250 per ship call by meeting emissions and other criteria.

“They’re getting a slight incentive from us for bringing in their vessels,” Van Dijk said. “It’s an indirect benefit. I don’t know that they’re rerouting ships for this; they already have the latest technology.”

But the implications go beyond Los Angeles and this group of carriers, said Phillip Sanfield, the port’s director of media relations.

“Besides clean air here, we’re also trying to encourage other ports in North America and the rest of the world to join in,” Sanfield said. “The more ports join in, the more incentivized carriers are. We’re just trying to continue to move the needle on the green front where we can.”

“We can expand trade without increasing pollution,” Van Dijk said.

For fresh produce, Hamburg Süd North America, Hapag-Lloyd AG and Maersk Line have joint ventures, for example, with grower-shippers in Australia and New Zealand. “We have New Zealand kiwis and Australian citrus coming with those lines to the Port of Los Angeles,” Van Dijk said. “They’re heavy in that trade.”

Produce enters or departs in monitored reefer containers.

Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Yang Ming handle substantial summer exports of California stone fruit and grapes from grower-shippers including Pandol Bros. Inc. and The Giumarra Cos., Van Dijk said.

Environmental Ship Index programs were already under way at 14 European ports. All aim to exceed clean air standards set by the International Maritime Organization.

The Port of Los Angeles developed its program with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and other stakeholders. It conforms to the San Pedro Bay Clean Ports Air Action Plan, which set targets for pollution reduction through 2014 and 2023.