They might not be our biggest boats but they are often our most effective tools at sea - our inflatable boats. For getting between a whaling harpoon and whales, stopping toxic waste dumping at sea and confronting illegal fishing boats they have no equal.
Technically our inflatables are called Rigid Inflatable Boats or RIBs. To our crew who drive them they are just inflatables or to many people 'Greenpeace in their rubber boats'.
The RIB is one of the safest small offshore boats manufactured. Though we refer to them as "inflatables", they are far more sophisticated than they appear or their name suggest. Though they come in a great variety of sizes and configurations, they all have a few things in common:below the water is a hard fibre glass or aluminium hull that allows the boat to travel at high speeds through rough seas. A specially constructed rubber tube that runs along the bow and sides of the hull gives the boat exceptional buoyancy and stability in the water. A powerful engine makes the boat fast and manoeuvrable.
While we have been using them for actions for over 25 years, the inspiration for their use came from unusual source. During the 1972 voyage of the Greenpeace yacht Vega against French nuclear testing, French commandos used inflatables to board the Vega and badly beat the skipper, David McTaggart. The effectiveness of the commando's boats was not lost on our tactical mastermind at the time, Bob Hunter. If they were effective for the French commandos surely Greenpeace could put them to good use.
A couple of years later, in 1975, the inflatables were out to challenge the Soviet whaling fleet and protect the whales from explosive harpoons, as they are still doing 31 years later.
Many inflatables have come and gone over the years, had barrels of radioactive waste dropped on them, been squashed by ships transporting illegal timber, impounded by police or just plain worn out. But all the inflatables onboard our ships have names. Some mundanely named after their colour or manufacturer. But some are more imaginatively named. Currently onboard the Esperanza is one nicknamed the African Queen, after the ship which ferried Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn up the Congo in the movie of the same name.