The third, brand-spanking-new Rainbow Warrior is currently sailing in the Indian Ocean on a two-month-long fisheries campaign.
Greenpeace has a long and tumultuous history with campaigning at sea. The first Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French intelligence in 1985, and after 22 years of tireless ocean front-lining (helping to end nuclear testing in the Pacific, blocking coal ports and closing down illegal fishing operations to name a few), the second Rainbow Warrior retired last year to become a floating hospital in Bangladesh. Now she’s back, on a mission to save East Africa’s waters from destructive deep ocean trawling.
At 55 metres tall, the ship’s A-Frame mast hoists powerful sails and is nearly as long as the Rainbow Warrior herself – 57.92 metres.
I jumped aboard the ocean-going eco-crusader for five days of sailing, hooking around the Cape of Good Hope and surging through the wild coast waters towards Durban– where last year, Greenpeace made media waves at COP 17 after seven campaigners were arrested on the sidelines of the UN climate conference. In the largest Greenpeace force to ever meet Africa, they staged street wide marches and scaled buildings to fly banners asking the governments to ‘listen to the people and not the polluters’.
Now, Greenpeace are setting their sights on Africa’s seas – and after successfully negotiating with the Senegalese government to stop European trawlers plundering their fish stocks – they’re sailing in the Indian Ocean on a campaign that, among other things, has already helped a woefully ill equipped Mozambican Ministry of Fisheries to patrol the country’s waters and help prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
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I joined the crew just before they began their Indian Ocean Campaign with a brief to listen, observe and understand the Rainbow Warriors – to get my head around how an international environmental group operate and to meet the faces behind a team of seafarers who have put their lives on the line for pelagic protection – tying themselves to anchor chains and climbing oil rigs for days on end.
As a journalist it was one of my biggest challenges to date, having been brought up in uptight Britain – Greenpeace were widely considered by conservatives to be attention seeking hogwash, a collection of lentil-eating, bearded hippies, preaching impractical ideals through wildly extravagant public displays.
I had a stereotype to get over, my own embarrassing ignorance of Greenpeace (and their footprint on the world), and a time limit tested by rightfully cautious activists – often misrepresented and sensationalised by hungry press members.
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You can find out more about my experience, thoughts and impressions aboard the Rainbow Warrior, coming up in Africa Geographic magazine’s December edition.