The paper aims to investigate the holistic environmental benefits of using a battery system on a roll on/roll off (ro-ro) passenger ship which was originally fitted with a diesel engine engaged in Korean coastal service. The process of this research has multiple layers. First, the operating profiles of the case ship were collected, such as speed, output, operation time and the configuration of the diesel propulsion system. Second, the full battery propulsion system, in place of the diesel system, was modelled and simulated on a power simulation software (PSIM) platform to verify the adequacy of the proposed battery propulsion system. Then, the life cycle assessment method was applied to comprehensively compare the environmental footprint of the diesel-mechanical and fully battery-powered vessels. A focus was placed on the life cycle of the energy sources consumed by the case ship in consideration of the South Korea’s current energy importation and production status. Three life cycle stages were considered in the analysis: ‘production’, ‘transport’ and ‘use’. With the aid of Sphera GaBi Software Version 2019 and its extensive data library, the environmental impacts at the energy production and transport stages were evaluated, while the same impacts at the use stage were determined based on actual laboratory measurements. The environmental performance of the two scenarios in four impact categories was discussed: global warming potential (GWP), acidification potential (AP), eutrophication potential (EP) and photochemical ozone creation potential (POCP). Results of the comparative analysis are presented based on estimates of the overall reduction in the environmental impact potential, thereby demonstrating the overall benefits of using a battery driven propulsion, with a decrease of the GWP by 35.7%, the AP by 77.6%, the EP by 87.8% and the POCP by 77.2%. A series of sensitivity analyses, however, has delivered the important message that the integration of batteries with marine transportation means may not always be the best solution. The types of energy sources used for electricity generation will be a key factor in determining whether the battery technology can ultimately contribute to cleaner shipping or not. By casting doubts on the benefits of battery propulsion, this paper is believed to offer a meaningful insight into developing a proper road map for electrifying ship propulsion toward zero emission of shipping.