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Rainbow Warrior II: the tradition of defiance at sea goes on

Esther Oxford
Monday 10 July 1995 23:02 BST

A decade after the sinking of the first Rainbow Warrior, the ship that replaced it was yesterday being towed away from Mururoa atoll, following its storming by French commandos on Sunday. If the history of Greenpeace and its maritime exploits is anything to go by, we can expect to hear plenty more about the ship and her crew of 23.

The second Rainbow Warrior is a curious mixture of the old world mixed with the new. The ship was once a North Sea trawler but was rebuilt in Hamburg with four sails (to demonstrate that sail-assisted ships can cut fuel consumption by 50 per cent, say Greenpeace).

The trawler was built in 1957 as a fully riveted, steam-powered fishing vessel, 44 metres long. In 1966, she was extended to her present 55 metres and converted to diesel power. Before Greenpeace bought the then Grampian Fame (formerly the Ross Kashmir), she was owned by the North Star Fishing Company which had been using her as an oil rig stand-by vessel. She was equipped to take 300 survivors in the hold.

The immediate task facing the Greenpeace team was to fit the ship for long-range work. Changes had to be made to the accommodation and to the engine room, and a sail rig was erected. The old house was removed down to the main deck level and a new larger house was added. The old fish hold, or survivor space, was divided into three four-person cabins, two double cabins and a cargo area.

Ironically, the new ship was paid for by the French, in the form of compensation for the fiasco of 10 years ago today, when a French submarine blew up the original Rainbow Warrior as it sailed out of Auckland harbour. Then, as now, Greenpeace was protesting about the nuclear testing on the tiny island of Mururoa. But the uproar which followed this act of official terrorism forced the French to learn a valuable lesson: that the Rainbow Warrior and its crew will not be defeated quietly.

On the fourth anniversary of the sinking, the Rainbow Warrior II was launched. The ship and crew developed their own version of "official terrorism": getting in the way of other ships and attracting copious coverage from the media. To some degree it worked.

The maiden voyage of this new ship was a repeat of the 1985 voyage (Sellafield to Rongelap, in the Marshall Islands) in defiance of the French authorities. Since then, the ship has continued this tradition of defiance - harassing fishermen in the North Sea for using drift nets (which Greenpeace claims can indiscriminately snare sea life other than the target catch) or sailing round proclaiming "Save the Whale". But the bulk of the work has focused on the nuclear industry, and will continue to do so. And that work is done with a sense of humour and goodwill.

In a letter last week to the crew of a French naval ship, the crew of the Rainbow Warrior wrote: "From one seafarer to another, I send you and your crew warm greetings. We hold no ill feelings to you as fellow human beings." The letter was met with short shrift: the frigate turned about and headed away. But it made the newspapers, back in Britain. Beware anyone who steps in the path of the Warriors.

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