April 5, 2013

The Rainbow Warriors are in town

Greenpeace's third Rainbow Warrior sailed into Brisbane on Wednesday. The first was sunk in Auckland Harbour on 10 July 1985 by French secret service operatives following the involvement of the vessel in protests against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. A Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira, lost his life. I remember the incident well; I recall especially the shame of the French when it was revealed that the directive had come all the way down from the Elysée Palace. American Peter Willcox was on that boat, and today he is skipper of its reincarnation.

For the first time, Greenpeace has a brand new motor-assisted yacht, built in Germany in 2011 to their specific requirements, which included a helipad and rapid-launch dinghies. Their number one ask was that it be truly a sail boat. So it has five huge sails around two 50 metre A-frame masts, for stability. The crew uses the power of the wind whenever they can. The ship weighs more than 850 tonnes.

It looked splendid in the sunshine at Hamilton Portside Wharf yesterday. I queued with hundreds of people to go on board and try to imagine racing with the roaring forties across the Indian Ocean ready for the Save the Reef Australia Tour 2013. It's school holidays, so there were thankfully lots of kids and their parents – the generation that really has to wake up to the realities of climate change and biodiversity loss – which cheered me and a like-minded Queenslander from Ipswich who helped me pass the time as we stood in line, putting the world to rights, for one and a half hours.

Rainbow Warrior III cost €22.5 million to build. Greenpeace accepts no donations from business or political groups, so the money was raised from more than 100,000 private donations, large and small, from around the world, which is almost as impressive as the vessel itself.
The Warrior sails this evening for Townsville (12 and 13 April), Bowen (14), Airlie Beach (17) and Mackay (18 and 19). Catch it if you can.

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