We're gonna need a bigger boat!

Feature story - 2 July, 2009
Our famous fleet of ships is about to get an extraordinary addition - The Rainbow Warrior III. It will be purpose built from the keel up to fight the greatest threat to the oceans and our world: climate change.

A legend continues...

After a long and thorough planning and design process we are excited to finally see our dream ship coming to life. The Rainbow Warrior III will continue our sailing tradition and begin a new chapter in the historyof our fleet: a custom-built high seas sailing ship, highly fuel efficient with the best green-marine technology.

At 52 years of age and after 20 years of successful environmental campaigning around the world, the Rainbow Warrior II is approaching its recommended decommissioning date and needs to be replaced. The new ship has been designed by Gerard Dijkstra and Partners in Amsterdam, Netherlands and will be built by Fassmer, a shipbuilding company in Bremen, Germany. Although the first piece of steel won't be cut until early 2010 - preparations for the build will start immediately and the ship will be launched in 2011, our 40th anniversary year.

Shaping history with ships

This organisation was founded on the ocean, when the first Greenpeace crew set out in an old fishing boat to stop a nuclear weapons test in the Aleutian Islands. Throughout the last 38 years we have used ships at the forefront of our campaigns. They allow us to play a vital role in creating positive change, protecting the environment and promoting essential solutions for a more green and peaceful world.


Currently our main fleet consists of three ships, Rainbow Warrior II, Arctic Sunrise, and Esperanza. Each of them are unique: The Esperanza is the youngest of our fleet, ideal for fast and long range missions. It is currently touring the Pacific to document and raise awareness about the effects of climate change in the region. The Arctic Sunrise is perfectly suitable for icy conditions in the polar regions and is currently in northern Greenland investigating the impacts of climate change. The Rainbow Warrior II is our flagship, the longest serving member of our current fleet - currently supporting a campaign to save Mediterranean bluefin tuna.

You can't sink a rainbow

In October 1978, the first Rainbow Warrior defended the grey seals of the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, when the British government announced a six year culling because "the seals were eating too many fish". When the sealers arrived activists from the Rainbow Warrior chased the seals into the water before the hunters could kill them. As scenes from this event hit the national media - the UK Prime Minister's office received more than 17,000 letters of protest and the cull wasended.

The original Rainbow Warrior started life as the 'Sir William Hardy'-- a fishery research trawler used by the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was built in 1955, and was the first diesel electric ship built in the United Kingdom.

In 1985, the Rainbow Warrior embarked on a Pacific peace voyage to the Marshall Islands. The inhabitants of Rongelap, an island severely contaminated by fallout from US nuclear testing in the 1950s, asked for assistance in moving to a safer island. The Rainbow Warrior evacuated 308 Rongelap Islanders and their belongings to Mejato, 200 kilometres away.

The Rainbow Warrior was bombed in 1985 by French Secret Service Agents in Auckland New Zealand as she was preparing for a campaign against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. The two bombs killed one crew member, photographer Fernando Pereira and destroyed the ship beyond repair. She was scuttled and sunk in the clear deep waters of Matauri Bay in New Zealand and is now a popular dive site.

The Rainbow Warrior is synonymous with Greenpeace, with taking a stand to defend the planet, and is an icon of hope world wide. Not only does it provide Greenpeace with a platform to challenge environmental abuse across the world, it provides people with inspiration to take action of their own. More than ever the world needs the hope and inspiration provided by the Rainbow Warrior.

Gerd Leipold, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, speaking at the contract signing ceremony

Listen to the audio documentary about the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior 

Exactly four years after, to the day, the Rainbow Warrior II was launched. Today, the Rainbow Warrior inspires people everywhere as she continues to campaign against environmentally destructive practices. Since 1989, she has sailed all over the world, from the the high Arctic to Cape Horn.

In 1995, just before the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the Warrior, and just ahead of the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, French President Jacques Chirac announced a resumption of nuclear testing at Moruroa. The Rainbow Warrior, accompanied by a huge flotilla, headed to the test site in protest, amidst a worldwide outcry against France. On 9 July, French commandos boarded the ship, smashed equipment, threw tear gas into the bridge and seized the vessel. Greenpeace activists were arrested, interrogated and deported, but the flotilla continued the protest.

The French returned the boat to Greenpeace some months later. The resulting worldwide outrage forced France to finally stop nuclear testing in January 1996.

The Rainbow Warrior II went on to play a key role supporting many of our campaigns such as; documenting the impacts of rapid glacial retreat in Norway in conjunction with the Norwegian Polar Institute, obtaining evidence to prove the destructive impacts of bottom trawling in New Zealand, defending ocean life in the Mediterranean and more recently - encouraging countries around the world to Quit Coal and save the climate.

A flotilla of fishing boats joined the Rainbow Warrior II as it sailed into Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007 - during the UN Climate Summit. The flotilla called on people all over the world to take part in the global day of action on climate change.

As green as it gets

The Rainbow Warrior II steel hull is of vintage riveted construction which is becoming increasingly expensive to maintain to the highest classification standards. We will need a new Rainbow Warrior in order to meet our future global campaign challenges. Upgrading the existing ship is not technically or financially feasible and converting a second hand ship would compromise our campaigning and energy conservation needs. After careful consideration - we have decided that building a vessel from scratch is by far the best option.

The Rainbow Warrior III will be a state-of-the-art vessel built specifically for our needs and made to the highest environmental standards. She will carry a complete range of essential safety gear and action tools, including four inflatable boats and the facilities for a helicopter, while providing accommodation and a cutting-edge communication platform.

The ship will be built primarily to sail (using wind energy instead of fossil fuels), with the option in unsuitable weather conditions to switch over to engine-powered, diesel-electric propulsion. It will also have the following green features:

•    Hull shape designed specifically for superior energy efficiency

•    A-frame mast and sails - optimised for highly effective sailing

•    Electric drive system (10 knots on only 300kW)

•    Green ship class notation with Green Passport

•    Biological treatment of sewage and grey water

•    Central filling and venting system for fuel and oils to prevent spills

•    Environmentally friendly paint system

•    Re-use of engine heat to make hot water


We'll be putting a webcam in the ship yard so you will be able to see the Rainbow Warrior III being built!

Virtual launch

In early 2010, we will be launching a virtual version of the Rainbow Warrior III in cooperation with VSTEP, makers of the "Ship Simulator" series of games for the PC. Drawn from the actual 3-D CAD drawings andspecs to which the ship will be built, game players will be able to sail the virtual Rainbow Warrior through realistic sea and weather conditions and re-enact Greenpeace voyages to stop nuclear weapons testing, save the whales, and protect Antarctica -- on their own PC or in multi-player mode online. The game will also feature our ship the Esperanza and the jet boat the 'Billy G" will also be included in the game. (Sneak peak: Watch a short computer simulation clip of our ship Esperanza navigating rough waters)

Signup for our newsletter if you'd like to stay updated on our new ship or be alerted when the simulator game becomes available.

Check out the blog where Greenpeace crew members are talking about life on the oceans waves with the Rainbow Warrior I and II and their thoughts on a new ship.

Help build the Rainbow Warrior III

We are building the new Rainbow Warrior during a global recession, the cheapest time to build. But it's also the hardest time to raise money. We need your help to make this ship a reality, and keep Greenpeace's other ships in the water -- please give whatever you can.