The Rainbow Warrior III mega-yacht will be one of the greenest ships afloat, complete with satellite video system and a helipad
Many navies are shrinking as defence cuts bite, but environment groups are renewing their fleets in response to growing ecological pressure on oceans and losses of their vessels at sea.
German and Polish shipyards will shortly start work on Greenpeace's £14m flagship, a mega-yacht that will become the third Rainbow Warrior next year. It will be one of the biggest yachts to have been commissioned in the last decade with, say the designers, a massive 1,300 sq metres of sail supported on two A-frame masts.
Like billionaire Roman Abramovich's £300m mega-yacht, the Eclipse, also expected to be launched this year in Germany, the Rainbow Warrior III will have its own helipad and room for a flotilla of inflatables. But while it will sleep 30 in more comfort than the fishing boats the environment group usually converts, it will not have Abramovich's swimming pools, military-grade missile defence system, submarine or armour-plating.
Instead it will be one of the greenest ships afloat and a satellite system will allow campaigners to stream video footage from anywhere in the world. "We have converted ships for 30 years and it's time we practised what we preach," said Ulrich von Eitzen, a Greenpeace spokesman. "Upgrading the existing ship was not technically or financially feasible and converting a secondhand ship would compromise our campaigning and energy conservation needs."
The new ship will have both diesel and electric engines but these are expected to be in use for less than 10% of its time at sea. "The aim is to drastically reduce emissions and to burn far less fuel. You can never say in advance what speeds it will do, but its main propulsion will be by wind," said Eitzen.
Analysis showed that it was ecologically efficient to build from new rather than convert another ship, but that there was little difference between an aluminium or steel hull. By far the greatest impact on the environment was found to be during the ship's use rather than in the construction or eventual demolition phases.
The decision to choose sail rather than rely on fossil fuels is also a deliberate challenge to the shipping industry to reduce its carbon and other polluting emissions. Ships' diesel engines rely on "bunker" oil, one of the dirtiest fuels in the world, but owners are coming under increased pressure to reduce emissions and marine designers are investigating a return to sail. Critics have argued that Greenpeace has been reluctant to address shipping emissions for fear of drawing attention to its own fossil-fuel-powered fleet.
The cost should not be a problem for the group, which, with nearly three million supporters, is extremely wealthy. The new Rainbow Warrior will bring the Greenpeace fleet to six ocean-going ships, as big as the navies of many island states such as Madagascar, the Seychelles, the Maldives and Mauritius. Greenpeace boats have been used from the Arctic to the Amazon to confront whalers, loggers, illegal fishers, GM food importers and nuclear testing. They are crewed by a mix of professional sailors and volunteers.
In 1986 the French government ordered its secret service to sink the first Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, New Zealand.
The Sea Shepherd conservation group, based in California, is also planning to augment its fleet of former US and British coastguard ships after one of its vessels was smashed in half by a Japanese whaling ship in Antarctica the week before last. Even as the futuristic Ady Gil, a £1.1m carbon-fibre trimaran, was sinking, Sea Shepherd's Hollywood backers launched an appeal to raise £2m for a new "bigger, better, faster ship".
"I won't let them take me down. I'm going to build another ship, an improved version," said Ady Gil, a producer who gave £600,000 to the group last year to buy the ship. It held the speed record for circumnavigating the world and could travel at 50 knots in high seas. Within a few hours of the sinking, a further £120,000 was pledged to Sea Shepherd by animal lovers, mainly in the US and Australia.
Gil's donation follows a £3m gift to Sea Shepherd from Hollywood quiz host Bob Barker last year to convert a former Norwegian whaler into an enforcement vessel. "We need everything: coastal patrol vessels, inflatables, personal watercraft and other types of vessels and marine equipment," said Captain Paul Watson, the group's director.
Oceana, one of the world's largest maritime protection organisations, with more than 300,000 members, also plans to augment its fleet. The group, which monitors and reports illegal fishing in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, plans to lease a third ocean-going boat.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016