Last week I was lucky enough to join the Esperanza (the largest vessel in the Greenpeace fleet) for just over 7 days. Most of the crew spend months at a time aboard the ship, so I really only got a taste of what life on the Esperanza is really like, but it was well worth it. If you’ve done any research into the Greenpeace fleet, you’ll know that it consists of the Rainbow Warrior, the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza.
I’ve never been on a ship before, and was quite nervous about what to expect, whether I’d be seasick and even whether I’d be able to find my way around (nevermind actually understanding how everything works onboard).
Ordinarily, the Esperanza is blue, but when I arrived she had just been freshly re-painted green – the same colour as the Warrior, but still with Greenpeace’s iconic rainbow. Esperanza is Spanish for “hope” and I’ll tell you now that the first time you the ship, it is quite an imposing and impressive sight. Inside there is a maze of corridors and rooms that don’t initially make much sense at all, but which also meant that I was constantly discovering new areas on the ship.
During my week onboard I learnt that the ship has been especially refitted in as environmentally friendly way as possible, including the removal of asbestos, fitting a special fuel system to avoid spillage, on board recycling of waste water and an environmentally efficient propulsion system to reduce CO2 emissions. The ship is also pretty big (it is actually big, not just big to my inexperienced and initially intimidated eyes), with a length of 72.3m, a maximum speed of 14 knots and of course the Esperanza has 6 inflatable boats and a helicopter deck, which are integral to Greenpeace’s work.
I was (of course) seasick despite fairly calm seas, and I can vouch for how unpleasant that is, but luckily it only lasted for around a day, subsiding to low-level nausea and then normality.
Totally eclipsing this (and more than making up for it) during the trip we were lucky enough to spot two sperm whales just a couple of metres away from the ship – an unusual sight because they are actually the deepest diving mammal, and will often disappear from sight for hours at a time. I remember standing at the bow of the ship, watching them and reaffirming in my heart how important the work that I’m doing is. Although South Africa was a million miles away in that moment, the value of change in my country reverberates around the world – helping to create a better and sustainable future.
I feel truly privileged to have been able to spend time with and get to know the crew of the ship – and hear some of their amazing stories of inspiring action. Some members of the crew had been with Greenpeace for over 20 years, had taken part in amazingly daring actions, had been involved in the tsunami relief efforts or had been part of the Greenpeace team bearing witness and documenting the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
That’s what Greenpeace is about in the end: inspiring action. Taking inspiring action ourselves, and inspiring others to take action too. It feels like the word “lucky” has come up or been implied too often in this blog – but there is simply no other way to describe how I feel. I was very sad to leave the Esperanza and its talented and dedicated crew, but I left the ship feeling truly inspired and proud to work for Greenpeace Africa.
South Africa is a country dominated by coal (more than 90% of our electricity comes from coal) and 6 new nuclear power stations are possibly in the pipeline. Less than 1% of our electricity comes from renewable energy and Eskom is building two of the biggest power stations in the world (Medupi and Kusile). The country is not short on obstacles, but neither is it short on opportunities for real change, economic development and green jobs.
This year is going to be a challenging one – and an important one for creating fundamental change. The year will end in the harbour city of Durban for the international climate negotiations (COP 17) in December this year – and I feel inspired and ready for it. In fact, I’m more than ready to take action, and I hope that you’ll be inspired to take action alongside me.