Protest Vessels

Friday, July 11, 2014
From being attacked in the safety of port, to taking protest action to the open seas, the people who crew protest vessels often find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. 
Many New Zealanders are passionate about protecting the environment and marine wildlife and show this through taking part in activities such as protest action against offshore oil drilling and international whaling.  Not only do protesters often have to contend with savage weather and rough seas, but they must be prepared for physical retaliation from the opposing vessels and their crews as well as legal action if they breach International Maritime Law. 
As with any protest action, offshore protests can be either peaceful or more physically engaging.  Anti-whaling protesters have many physical tactics to employ when trying to make the whaling ships change course. Small protest boats will often zigzag across the bows of the much larger whaling vessels, sometimes trailing lengths of rope in hope of entangling the propellers, forcing the whaling fleet to slow down.

Protest boats have also been known to manoeuvre themselves between a whale and the harpoons, hoping to stop the weapon from being fired.  In retaliation, the harpoon boats also drag ropes and lengths of steel cable behind them, with the aim of making the protesters inactive.  These highly dangerous manoeuvres, undertaken by both sides, can, and do, result in collisions between vessels and injury of crew members.

However, even peaceful protest action can cause a violent reaction, such as was the case with the RAINBOW WARRIOR, a Greenpeace ship engaged in anti-nuclear protests.  On the 10th July 1985, RAINBOW WARRIOR was docked at Marsden Wharf, downtown Auckland.  She was waiting to start a voyage to Mururoa Atoll to lead a peaceful protest against the French nuclear testing programme in the Pacific Ocean region.  During the night, French agents acting on orders from their Government placed explosive devices on the hull of the protest vessel.  The resulting explosions led to the death of Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira and caused catastrophic damage to the ship.

Here at the New Zealand Maritime Museum we have a small collection of artefacts related to this tragic event.

Held in the Maritime Museum collection is this foot pump that was salvaged from the wreck of RAINBOW WARRIOR; it was located in the stern area of the ship.  It is on loan to the Maritime Museum from Greenpeace. 
This piece of the RAINBOW WARRIOR’s hull  (700 x 400 x 350 mm) comes from the collection of the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.  Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
For further information on the RAINBOW WARRIOR go to
This model of the RAINBOW WARRIOR was commissioned by David McTaggart to be used in court action between Greenpeace and the French Government (2004.43)