The Rainbow Warrior

by Steve Reynolds

Greenpeace’s first Rainbow Warrior ship was blown-up whilst docked in Auckland harbour in New Zealand on 10th July 1985. The ship was being prepared for a protest voyage to Moruroa Atoll over French nuclear testing. French Secret Service agents planted two bombs on the ship. These bombs resulted in two large explosions just before midnight that evening, which caused the Rainbow Warrior to keel over. The ship’s Captain and crew were onboard the ship at the time. Most of them managed to get safely off of her, but Fernando Pereiro, a photographer who tried to rescue his cameras at the time, was drowned.

The Rainbow Warrior is now a popular dive site at the Cavalli Islands to the north of the Bay of Islands in northern New Zealand. The wreck had been refloated in Aukland Harbour and towed to the Cavalli Islands on 14th December 1987 to be sunk as an artificial reef and dive wreck. The being a small vessel, it can easily be covered in a single dive. She sits almost upright on the bottom, at a depth of 25-26m, with her superstructure rising to within 15m of the surface. As shown below, the bow section is still largely intact.

The intact bow of the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior

(Source: – no longer available)

Back in 1978 though, the Rainbow Warrior was a battered, rusty North Sea fishing trawler which was prepared by Greenpeace volunteers. The ship is now popular as a dive site at 22m depth off of the NZ coast.

According to Greenpeace, the Rainbow Warrior’s name is taken from a North American Indian prophecy – “According to an ancient Native American prophecy, there would come a time when the earth would be ravaged, the seas blackened, the streams poisoned and the birds fall from the sky. Just before it was too late, said the prophecy, people of all races and creeds would rise up and band together to become Warriors of the Rainbow and return the earth to its natural beauty and harmony. The spirit of this ancient story became the inspiration for the early Greenpeace activists, and a valued part of the Greenpeace legacy.”

Greenpeace has had another Rainbow Warrior since 1987, the Rainbow Warrior II. She was bought with the help of the financial settlement received from the French government for their part in the bombing of the first Rainbow Warrior. She is a motor-assisted three-masted schooner rig with horizontal gaffs (unusual horizontal sails). She was previously a (fully-riveted) steam-powered fishing vessel called the Grampian Fame. She was built in my country (and county) of birth, Yorkshire, England in 1957. Her original use was as a North Sea trawler. She then became an oilrig standby vessel. She was cut in half and lengthened by 11metres (from 44m to 55.2m) in 1966. (Her measurements are now: – length 55.2m, beam 8.54m, draft 4.35m, tonnage 555 gross tonnes.) She was also converted to diesel power at this time.

Rainbow Warrior II berthed in Port Adelaide (taken by Steve Reynolds)

After being purchased by Greenpeace in 1987, she underwent a two-year refit before being launched in Hamburg, Germany on 10th July 1989. (That was exactly four years after the bombs exploded on the first Rainbow Warrior.) The ship’s fish hold was converted into a theatre and storage area. A desalination plant, sewage treatment system, satellite communication and navigation equipment were all installed on her. She has energy saving features such as a specially designed wind/motor propulsion system, solar panels for hot water and a heat exchanger (heating system that uses heat from the engines). A total of five inflatable boats are stored on her.

I have visited Rainbow Warrior II in Port Adelaide a couple of times. Here she is on one of those two occasions.

Rainbow Warrior II berthed in Port Adelaide (taken by Steve Reynolds)

A 1.8m wooden sculpture of a dolphin carved from oak sits on the foredeck in front of the bridge. It was donated by a German support group. The dolphin appears to jump over the railing.

My wife Noeleen with the wooden dolphin on the foredeck

of the Rainbow Warrior II  (taken by Steve Reynolds)

The original wheel from the first Rainbow Warrior is located in front of the bridge and the original bell is in the ship’s mess. She is registered in Amsterdam which means that she sails under the flag of the Netherlands. The strange coincidence about this is that the Netherlands flag is identical to the French flag (if the French flag was rotated 90degrees counter-clockwise).

Here am I onboard the Rainbow Warrior II (taken by Noeleen Reynolds)

Although I am yet to dive on the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand (except through the power of the Internet), I can at least say that I have been onboard Rainbow Warrior II a couple of times.

For some on-line reading and beautiful images, visit:

Jill at Mozaik Underwater Cameras, Blaine, WA, USA | Vancouver, BC , CANADA suggests an article about wreck diving at

By Steve Reynolds

Steve Reynolds is the current President of MLSSA and is a long-standing member of the Society. Steve is a keen diver, underwater explorer, photographer and is chief author of the Society's extensive back catalogue of newsletters and journals.

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