Her predecessors have been blockaded, rammed and – most memorably – bombed and sunk by the French secret service.
Now a new Rainbow Warrior is approaching completion in a shipyard in Germany. Ten years in the planning, Rainbow Warrior III will have accessories such as a helicopter pad and a secure communications room more usually associated with the boats of Russian oligarchs.
Greenpeace, which is spending £20 million on the project, hopes that the new ship will give the organisation greater campaigning reach, as well as being “greener” than the 56-year-old Rainbow Warrior II currently in use.
While the new ship will still have a diesel engine, the charity hopes it will be used for less than 10 per cent of its time at sea. Instead it will primarily be powered by 1,300 square metres of sail rigged on two 50-metre masts. This will allow the ship to travel at speeds of 15 knots, fast enough to keep pace with conventionally powered industrial vessels.
Inside, the boat will have accommodation for 30 people and a secure communications room capable of streaming live footage from the boat to anywhere in the world – even if the vessel is taken over.
She is due to be launched in June and will undergo sea trials for two months before going on a world tour in the autumn.
Stefanos Malandrakis, who is in charge of the building project, said it was more environmentally friendly to build from scratch rather than refitting an existing boat as Greenpeace had done in the past: “This is a boat which we are going to be able to use for at least the next 30 years, and it is an investment that is needed more than at any time right now because when you see the impact of climate change we still need to be in remote parts of the planet.”
Greenpeace boats have been used from the Arctic to the Amazon to confront whalers, loggers, illegal fishers, GM food importers and nuclear testing. They are crewed by a mix of professional sailors and volunteers.
The first Rainbow Warrior was a trawler previously used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, built in 1955 and bought by Greenpeace in 1977 for £40,000.
In 1985 she was in the Pacific, campaigning against nuclear testing, when she was sabotaged and sunk by the French secret service who attached two bombs to the hull of the ship.
A photographer on board was killed when he returned after the first explosion to try to retrieve his equipment.
Rainbow Warrior II came into service four years after the sinking of her predecessor, but is actually around the same age, having been converted from a deep sea fishing schooner built in 1957.
Manuel Pinter, who was on the crew of Rainbow Warrior II between 1993 and 1997, said that while it was cramped and uncomfortable, it had an almost magical quality. “When you have the right crew and the right campaign it was a marvellous place to be. Just by turning up in a place in the Rainbow Warrior it seemed like things could happen. Just the name Rainbow Warrior is a little bit magical. It will always be special.”
Plans are still being finalised for what will happen to Rainbow Warrior II when the new boat enters service. It will either by recycled, put in a maritime museum or be passed on to another operator. Mr Pinter is keen for it to become a hospital ship: “I would not like to see her disappear entirely. I still think she has a roll to play.”
A £20m ship to patrol the oceans
Length Overall: 57.92 metres (190ft)
Gross Tonnage: 838 tons
Speed: 15 knots
Cruising range: 4,500 miles
Accommodation: For 32 people
Total sail surface: 1,290 square metres (13,885 sq ft)
The ship will carry enough sail to cover four-and-a-half tennis courts.
An onboard satellite-communications system will provide broadband to allow the ship to stream live footage. A secure radio room and onboard server room sit behind steel bulkheads, meaning that even if the ship is boarded and occupied, it can continue to transmit.
The mast will be 11 metres (36ft) wide and 50 metres (164ft) high – as tall as Nelson's Column or a 15-storey building. That will allow vessels to be spotted 15 miles away from its crow's nest.
The helicopter landing pad and storage bay will allow Greenpeace to film and monitor activities from the air. The ship's top speed will also allow it to keep pace with industrial vessels.