Commissioned as a North Sea fisheries vessel in 1956, the Sir William Hardy was purchased by Greenpeace in 1977 and christened Rainbow Warrior.
The name “Rainbow Warrior” came from the Greenpeace Paris office. Remi Parmentier had read Hugo Verlomme’s book Mer-mère and liked the idea of “Le Combattant de l’Arc-en-ciel”. Greenpeace UK’s Susi Newborn simplified Parmentier’s Gallic to “Rainbow Warrior”. Many believe that the name derives from a Cree prophecy of ecological disaster, but this connection was made a few years after the Rainbow Warrior had been christened.
The Rainbow Warrior was a rusting 49-metre, 22-berth fisheries vessel when Greenpeace first purchased her in London in 1977. Volunteers chipped away at the rust, repainted her and overhauled her engines so that, by June 1978, she was ready for her first campaign.
In June 1978, the Rainbow Warrior went north to campaign against Iceland's commercial whaling fleet. She followed this with campaigns against UK nuclear waste dumping in the Bay of Biscay, Spanish whaling fleets and Norwegian sealing expeditions in the Orkney Islands.
The Warrior was one of a number of early Greenpeace campaign vessels – others of note are the Phyllis Cormack, the Fri, the Vega, and the tug Greenpeace.
In 1985, the people of Rongelap, an atoll in the central Pacific, asked Greenpeace to relocate them to Mejato on nearby Kwajalein Atoll. Rongelap had suffered disasterously from radioactive fallout from the US Government's nuclear testing programme. The Rainbow Warrior carried this community and their possessions to their new home and then sailed south to Auckland, New Zealand to prepare for a voyage to Moruroa Atoll where the French government was conducting nuclear tests.
On July 10 1985, the Rainbow Warrior sank in Auckland harbour. Two explosions ripped through her hull as she lay in anchor at Marsden Wharf. One crew member, photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed. France later admitted responsibility for this act of terrorism.
Today the Rainbow Warrior lies at peace in Matauri Bay, New Zealand where she has become an underwater memorial for divers. Greenpeace has continued to maintain the legacy of the Rainbow Warrior and now Rainbow Warrior III is performing much the same duties as its namesake.