|The first thing that struck me as I descended onto the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior was the colours. I have never seen such beautiful colours on a wreck before: reds and yellows, pinks and blues - all the colours of the rainbow; its as if even the marine life is in sympathy with the old girl. There were fields upon fields of brilliant jewel anemones.|
And as I moved out to get a panoramic picture of her, I glimpsed something totally unexpected. At first I thought it was some unusually fast new species of fish; then I realised it was a bird. It came like a targeted missile right towards me, swooping past, and then turning away and heading towards the bow. I watched it disappear into the distance, in awe of its sleek swimming style. A cormorant had stopped by to do a spot of fishing!
Two and a half years after her sinking, the raised and patched-up Rainbow Warrior was towed from Auckland, New Zealand, to the Cavalli Islands, three hours to the north, to be sunk as an artificial reef. On 14 December, 1987, a sheltered position was chosen, not far from Motutapere Island, and the vessels seacocks were opened. Inquisitive triggerfish were checking out the wreck within 30 minutes of her placing.
The wreck sits on sand in about 25m of water. The buoy is usually tied on to the stern section, and on a good day, when visibility is 20m or more, you can see the whole stern section and a good part of the ship as soon you descend the line. Most of the time visibility is at least 15m, and on an exceptional day it can reach 30m.
I found the stern colours amazing; even at depth they were still visible. Apparently, jewel anemones are able to absorb light at a low level of intensity and emit it at a higher one, so we could still see these gorgeous colours at an incredible 20m. I stayed at the stern for some time, mesmerised by the amazing scene in front of me. When I had almost exhausted a whole film, I began to explore the rest of the wreck. Although I discovered her bridge had collapsed and a good deal of her railings were bent or missing, I found her otherwise still intact. Her relatively shallow position has allowed a good covering of kelp and algae to take hold on her upper surfaces.
There is so much life encrusting her that I found it impossible to see exactly where the two explosions that sank the ship had taken place. The patch-up job was remarkably good. Time has also covered up the famous Rainbow Warrior Aberdeen lettering on her stern, and the dove and Greenpeace markings on her hull. Her famous rainbow colours have also disappeared, but they have been replaced with huge gardens of jewel anemones instead, which do the same job, but even better!
Her relatively small size, (45m long) and her shallow depth made her great for exploration and photography. I had time to circumnavigate her a couple of times and check out her most accessible compartments, including her galley and saloon. Inside I found it very dark and eerie. Moray eel and crayfish are known to lurk in many parts of the wreck.
Around the wreck there were plenty of subjects to photograph, from little blennies peering out of small holes to small schools of leatherjackets and blue maomao. Down on the deck the odd kelp fish seemed as at home here as in his normal habitat. Here I almost bumped into a huge scorpion fish, blending into his surroundings perfectly. Up on the railings I searched for nudibranchs, but I couldnt find any, so contented myself with a few more photographs of jewel anemones.
The bow was even more photogenic than the stern. Here the railings are still complete, and are festooned with anemones and the odd piece of kelp.
I had taken two cameras with me, which enabled me to take both wide angle shots of the wreck and close-up shots of the brilliant marine life living on her. As well as the dazzling array of jewel anemones, I found curious little triplefins and several blennies. I could have spent hours just photographing them. As I slowly made my way up the buoy line, I looked back down at the wreck. I wondered when and if I would ever get to dive her again.
|How the Warrior was sunk || |
|The initial objective of the French government bombers who sank the Rainbow Warrior was achieved but the political fall-out was immense. One crew member was killed and several others injured. |
The Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was moored in Auckland harbour, New Zealand, when French Secret Service divers blew her up on the night of 10 July, 1985, killing one man and injuring several others.
On board were the crew and a few friends (they numbered eight in all), enjoying a last drink before turning in for the night. It had been a long, fairly tiring day; they had just finished a meeting to discuss plans for the forthcoming trip out to Moruroa Atoll, where they planned to protest against French nuclear testing.
Margaret Mills, the relief cook, had retired early to bed. She heard a couple of thuds on the ships hull before nodding off, but thought nothing of it.
It was 11.38 when the peace of the night was shattered as two limpet mines planted by the French divers went off. The explosion tore a massive hole in the side of the ships hull, rocking her violently. Water began to flood into her largest compartment, which housed the engine room. All the lights went out. Then the ship began to list. Within seconds the engine room was submerged and water was beginning to flood the lower cabins. The crew knew the ship was sinking and they had to get off. Fernando Pereira, who had been in the mess room, headed for his cabin, and was busily packing his cameras into his bag when another bomb went off. It rocked the ship even more violently than the first, and yet more water spilled into her from her damaged stern section. She took less than two minutes to sink after it exploded.
The first bomb had been designed to sink the ship; the second was attached to the stern to make sure that if she was raised, she would be unrepairable. It had cracked the stern in two places, and bent the propeller shaft and propeller; it had also blown in the aft ballast tank, which was full of water and formed the deck on which Fernando Pereira was standing. He died. The French Government denied any involvement. It was only after two months of constant international pressure and increasing evidence that they finally admitted that they were behind the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. The scandal rocked France. The United Nations ordered the country to pay several million dollars in compensation to Greenpeace, and to make a formal apology.
Operation Rainbow might have succeeded in its initial objectives, but overall it was a huge own goal. Greenpeace gained worldwide publicity and sympathy.