Plenty News, Winter 1980:
Plenty volunteers have been on board the Rainbow Warrior since April. We’ve been manning and coordinating the ship’s radio communications and radiation detection equipment. Plenty volunteer, Mark Long (WA4 XLC) is currently on board and is maintaining regular contact with the Plenty Relief Net on the ham radio.
In 1979 Stephen (WA4PVQ) and Susan Skinner became our first radio technicians to join Greenpeace aboard their flagship, the Rainbow Warrior. Plenty volunteer Mark Long was on the Greenpeace Team in 1980. Jeffrey Keating was the radio operator during that summer’s anti-nuclear campaign.
The Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, has been cruising the North Sea’s English Channel protecting the whales and protesting ocean dumping and transportation of nuclear wastes. These are the people who non-violently place themselves between the whales and the whalers.
The Rainbow Warrior was Greenpeace’s 145-foot long, diesel trawler fitted with a derrick with which to raise and lower the small inflatable boats (Zodiacs) that were powered by outboard motors and used as pursuit boats. On the aft deck was one larger inflatable speedboat equipped with twin 150 horse power Mercury outboard engines capable of 50 knots, so that it could keep up with the whaling vessels.
Amazing Tales of Real Life June 6th, 1979
Stephen Skinner reported from the Rainbow Warrior via ham radio in May 1979, “The crew of the Rainbow Warrior is an international one. I’m the only American — unfortunately Susan wasn’t able to go. The boat will carry twenty-three folks, nineteen crew, and four press. The press will be rotated from time to time so that more of them can see the action. I’ll be talking to you on the ham and sending you reports and pictures back from time to time, so you guys can know what’s happening. I can feel your support and really appreciate it.”
That 1979 campaign acted to stop the Icelandic four-ship whaling fleet from killing fin whales in the North Atlantic. The whalers didn’t have a factory ship; instead they towed whales back to the processing plant on shore. The Greenpeace plan was to consistently, non-violently, hassle the main hunter ship by getting between the whale and the harpoon — hoping to hurt the whalers in the wallet.
The whale products are not used in Iceland, but sold to other countries, mainly Japan. Fin whales grow to 90 feet in length. Stephen reported that a severe winter had depleted the usually abundant plankton, simple marine plants and animals the whales feed on, and fewer whales had been sighted that spring as they migrated to their northern mating waters between Iceland and Greenland.
The Rainbow Warrior spent the night of June 14th and the morning of the 15th, 1979, in a desperate struggle to prevent harpoon boats from shooting at fin whales in the waters just outside of Iceland’s territorial waters.
Over the radio, Stephen Skinner described the ensuing 19 hours as extremely harrowing for the Greenpeace pursuit crew, as they strove to keep their boat between the whales and the harpoons. The large inflatable engaged with the whalers at 8:30 pm on a Thursday, and through that long northern night, the sun never went down. It was midnight before the Rainbow Warrior finally got a direction fix by radio on her speedboat, and in that time the pursuit crew reported they prevented the harpoon boat from firing at least 12 times.
The Rainbow Warrior caught up with their speedboat, and lowered some of its smaller inflatables to join the action. All through the ‘night’ and on into the next morning, the Greenpeace boat crews did all they could to prevent the killing of these great sea mammals. Three times the frustrated whalers fired on a whale while one of the inflatables was in the line of fire — no boats were hit, fortunately. It wasn’t until late Friday morning that the whaling ship got its first whale, which turned out to be the only whale brought back to port by that ship, where half a dozen is the more usual catch. In all, Stephen reported Greenpeace prevented the whaler from firing on 20 whales and cost the whaling fleet over $100,000.
A combination of the rough seas around Iceland and the constant high-speed maneuvering left the big inflatable with a deflated hull and some damaged radio equipment, and trouble with both engines. The Rainbow Warrior followed the whaler back to port, with the damaged inflatable in tow. While the Greenpeace folks were repairing the inflatable they learned that the previous night, in the thick of the whale hunt, the captain of the whaler ship they were following had radioed the Icelandic Coast Guard for permission to destroy the inflatables. Permission was denied.
The following year (1980) Plenty volunteer Mark Long (WA4 XLC) became the radio operator on the Rainbow Warrior and continued to maintain regular contact with the Plenty Relief Net on the ham radio. Mark was in charge of radio communications on the Rainbow Warrior when Greenpeace announced that it would initiate a campaign in the UK to bring attention to the docking of nuclear fuel transportation ships at the town of Barrow-In-Furness on the Irish Sea.
Mark picks up the story here: During a break in the action, I stayed in London to purchase new batteries and spare electrical parts for the radio equipment, as well as have a local company build several new radio antennas to my specifications. When all was ready I met up with the Greenpeace UK Director Pete Wilkinson and we traveled by train to Barrow-In-Furness.
When we arrived, we found that the local harbormaster had banned the Rainbow Warrior from entering the port and restricted it to anchoring at a location that was several miles off shore. I used my VHF walkie-talkie to contact the ship and they sent a small rubber inflatable boat with an outboard motor to fetch us. We loaded the batteries, antennas and other radio gear and set off into the open sea. A few minutes later it began to snow and it soon became impossible to see beyond a distance of twenty-five feet. Then the waves began to churn and the little boat was soon dropping into six to eight-foot troughs. One of the lead acid batteries broke and battery acid spilled all over the floor of the boat, which meant that soon it would begin to eat the rubber lining of the vessel. By this time it was impossible to see the shore and there was no ship in sight. Our immanent demise was becoming a distinct possibility.
I got out the walkie-talkie and began hailing the ship on the emergency frequency. “Golf Sierra Zulu Yankee. Golf Sierra Zulu Yankee. Do you read? Over!” At first there was no answer. After a few long minutes passed the ship responded. “We read you loud and clear, Stringbean.” I asked them to switch on the ship’s powerful searchlight to give us a homing beacon. We soon spotted the light beam piercing the furious gales of snow and followed it home to safety.
As luck would have it, the Rainbow Warrior ran into a “force 12” storm while passing through the Irish Sea on its way back to Holland at the conclusion of the campaign. We heard distress calls from ships and eventually learned that several had sunk in the storm. There was little that we could do about it as it took all that we had just to keep from sinking ourselves. We eventually decided to seek shelter from the storm by stopping at a port on the southern coast of England. A sister ship to the Rainbow Warrior called the Fri was anchored up the river Gweek that emptied into the port. This gave me the opportunity to meet the crew of the sailing ship Fri, all of whom had participated with Greenpeace in an earlier campaign against French nuclear testing.
On June 17, 1980 Mark reported to the Plenty Relief Net, as the Rainbow Warrior was dogging the Spanish whaler Ibsa Tres, 14 miles off the coast of Spain. Four Greenpeace members climbed into a Zodiac and delivered a message to the crew of the whaling ship, explaining Greenpeace’s reasons for opposing the slaughter of whales and emphasizing the peaceful non-violent attitude of Greenpeace.
The next day the Ibsa Tres began to hunt as the Rainbow Warrior shadowed her. Within a few hours both ships were 60 miles off shore when the Spanish Navy gunship, the Cadero, began to approach. The Rainbow Warrior launched the inflatable Zodiacs to interfere with the Ibsa Tres. The Cadero began circling the Rainbow Warrior. A fin whale was sighted and Ibsa Tres gave chase. Greenpeace Zodiacs moved between the fin whale and whaler. A harpoonist from the Ibsa Tres came down a catwalk to fire a harpoon but was unable to because of the Zodiac presence. One whale directly saved!
A fin whale was sighted and Ibsa Tres gave chase. Greenpeace Zodiacs moved between the fin whale and whaler. A harpoonist from the Ibsa Tres came down a catwalk to fire a harpoon but was unable to because of the Zodiac presence. One whale directly saved!
The Ibsa Tres stopped dead in the water. Mark intercepted a radio communication from the Ibsa Tres and realized they were waiting for a Spanish Navy destroyer, the V.Y. Pinzon to arrive on the scene. Meanwhile Greenpeace members Remi and Chris talked to the captain of the whaler, who was friendly but did not feel it was an environmental necessity to discontinue his whaling operation.
The Pinzon pulled up beside the Rainbow Warrior and signaled the activists to standby and prepare to receive a boarding party. Rainbow Warrior replied they would standby, but would not receive the boarding party.
The Pinzon launched their own Zodiac towards the Rainbow Warrior with a three-sailor boarding party. At that moment another fin whale was sighted off the Rainbow Warrior’s stern. The Ibsa Tres went after it and the Greenpeace Zodiacs got in front of her. When the Pinzon boarding party was refused permission to come aboard the Rainbow Warrior, the Cadero began cutting back and forth across their bow, trying to get the environmentalists to stop. The Rainbow Warrior continued on, but within twenty minutes the chase was over and the ship was boarded by the Spanish Navy.
On June 19, 1980 the Rainbow Warrior was towed back to the Spanish port of El Ferrol. The Spanish Navy disabled the Rainbow Warrior’s main propulsion system and stationed armed guards on board.
One by one the Spanish Navy brought in the Greenpeace crew members for questioning. When Mark Long was brought in for interrogation he refused to answer any questions until he could have consular representation from the U.S. embassy present. A few days later a representative of the U.S. embassy in Spain arrived and, in their presence, Spanish Naval authorities questioned Mark. When he was asked about the nature of his radio communications on the whaling campaign, Mark refused to divulge any information — citing international law regarding the privacy of radio communications. The Naval Officer told him, “You are not under international law — you are under Spanish law!”
Mark replied, “Then do with me as you wish. I refuse to discuss this information.”
No charges were pressed on Mark or any of the other crew members. After 11 days under detention without being charged, the crew was told they could leave Spain.
The Rainbow Warrior continued its mission for several years but was finally sunk in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand by two exploding bombs on July 10, 1985. The French government’s foreign intelligence services, the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure) carried out the attack to prevent Greenpeace from interfering in the French nuclear bomb tests in the South Pacific. The French completed at least 175 atomic tests that spread radioactive contamination across Polynesia, New Zealand, Peru, and beyond.
A French secret agent, thirty-three year old Christine Cabon, posing as an environmentalist, gathered the details necessary to destroy the Rainbow Warrior. She passed her information on to demolition experts who then planted two magnetic mines on the side of the ship. An activist photographer, Fernando Pereira, was killed as the second explosion sank the Rainbow Warrior. New Zealand police quickly arrested two of the French DGSE agents who pled guilty to manslaughter. The French Defense Minister resigned in disgrace.
Greenpeace launched a second ship, Rainbow Warrior II, in 1989 to continue the campaign to protect the oceans. After over twenty years of service Rainbow Warrior II was retired and a new motorized ship made from sustainable and ethically sourced materials was christened Rainbow Warrior III in 2011.