The original Rainbow Warrior

Standard Page - 12 September, 2011
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.

Pete Bouquet

Crewmember Pete Bouquet paints the Rainbow Warrior, 1978

It took Greenpeace eight months to raise enough money for a 10 percent down-payment on the rusting ship in 1978. The balance was due within 60 days. As time ran out, hopes of purchasing the ship waned. But when the Netherlands branch of the World Wildlife Fund agreed to help finance a campaign to save the whales, Greenpeace had acquired its first vessel in Europe.

It was renamed 'Rainbow Warrior' after the Warriors in a North American Cree Indian prophecy: 'When the world is sick and dying, the people will rise up like Warriors of the Rainbow...

Kwakiutl symbol

Kwakiutl symbol of harmony with nature.

Fresh paint, in striking rainbow patterns, was applied to the super-structure and on the bow a dove of peace carrying an olive branch symbolised the vessel's mission.

On the stack of the ship, the crew painted a  motif of two whales forming the infinite cycle of nature, which symbolized harmony with the natural world to the sea-faring Kwakiutl  people of North America.  The symbol had been offered to Greenpeace campaigners during Greenpeace's first campaign to stop nuclear weapons testing in the Aleutian Islands.

Save the whales

Crew of Rainbow Warrior on their way to Iceland in 1978

First voyage

On 29 April 1978, as the Rainbow Warrior steamed proudly from the London docks, the Greenpeace and United Nations flags flew together to reflect not only the international composition of the 24-member crew from 10 countries, but global concern for the plight of the whales.  Her first mission was to Iceland, to oppose the commercial whaling programme there.

The entire operation was beset by almost insurmountable problems again and again: lack of money to buy fuel, legal wrangles, shortage of equipment and sheer exhaustion. But despite the odds, the Rainbow Warrior proved to be a truly seaworthy ship.

Wreck of the Rainbow Warrior.

Wreck of the Rainbow Warrior.

In the autumn of 1981, the diesel electric propulsion engine system that had been lovingly rebuilt on many occasions had to be replaced. Greenpeace volunteers took out 45 tons of equipment from the engine room and installed new Detroit engines. Ironically, it was discovered during the refit that the hydraulic system had been built to use whale oil, the dominant lubricant for this purpose in 1955.


In 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was equipped with sails in readiness for a voyage to the Pacific. The 320 residents of the radioactively-contaminated Rongelap Atoll asked Greenpeace to help resettle them on the safer soil of Mejato Island using the Rainbow Warrior. These Pacific islanders were suffering the effects of US nuclear tests in the 1950s including cancer, leukaemia and birth defects.

Later that year, the ship was due to lead a peace flotilla of ships from New Zealand to Moruroa to protest French Nuclear Testing. Three days after her arrival in Auckland, French agents bombed and sank the Rainbow Warrior in the harbour, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira.

Click here for more information about the bombing and Fernando Pereira

After the bombing of the ship in 1985 in New Zealand, the Rainbow Warrior was towed north from Auckland on 2 December 1987.

Sv Rainbow Warrior II

SV RAINBOW WARRIOR in full sail between Majuro and Ebeye in the Marshall Islands.

Ten days later, a crowd of well-wishers looked on as it was given a traditional Maori burial.

The Rainbow Warrior's final resting place is at Matauri Bay, in New Zealand's Cavalli Islands. It has become a living reef, attracting marine life and recreational divers.

The idea was first proposed by the New Zealand Underwater Association. It seemed a fitting end for a ship that had spent its time protecting the marine environment.

Now home to a complex ecosystem, the Rainbow Warrior has become a popular dive destination.

In 1989 the second Rainbow Warrior set sail