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Two hours on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior gives a glimpse into mission to save the sea’s ecosystems

“Imagine how crazy it feels to hear English spoken in 10 different accents,» laughs Rafael the Spaniard, introducing us to the other members of the crew. There’s Argentine captain Daniel, Englishman Robert, Italian Simona, Naomi, Simon and Roger Geries from New Zealand, Marta from Seville, Annie from Montpellier, Marco from Bologna and Beate from Hamburg. Returning from a 20-day trip in the Mediterranean, the multicultural crew of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior moored for two days at Zea Marina. By coincidence, the ship arrived just 21 years and a day after its predecessor of the same name sank in an explosion off the coast of New Zealand. If you tour the ship, you see the amount of work in store for the 14 crew members. Their main task is to record life and biodiversity in the areas they visit and observe the challenges. The data they collect are sent to land for assessment and research. Rafael, one of the divers, guides us. He has been with the Rainbow Warrior since it left Jakarta and he will stay until the last day of the trip. Not all the crew members stay for such a long time, he says. They are volunteers and they change according to the needs of the program. For example, Robert, who works as a chef, has just come on board. «So if the food’s bad, we know who’s to blame,» he jokes. Daniel, the captain, is a new arrival. Naomi has worked on more missions than she can remember, and Simon, the general organizer, is on the Rainbow Warrior for the 10th time. Marta and Annie are sailors. Marco the diver specializes in underwater photography. Apart from the deck, life on board takes place in the tiny cabins and narrow galleyways. In the hull we meet Beate, the second engineer. «I’m an activist too,» she says. «It’s just that my job is very practical. It’s a difficult job and you don’t see many women doing it. In this case it’s a bit complicated. The ship is quite old and it needs daily maintenance. And we have to deal with a lot of breakdowns.» The current Rainbow Warrior is a schooner built on the frame of an old fishing boat. Made in Yorkshire in 1957, it was originally 44 meters long and had a steam engine. In 1966 it was extended to 55.2 meters, Greenpeace fitted it with new equipment, a winch, a new engine and various environmentally friendly mechanisms for managing waste, heat and water. It set sail again on July 10, 1989, on the fourth anniversary of its predecessor’s destruction. On the bridge, Rafael shows me a wooden helm, a souvenir from the first Rainbow Warrior. «We talk about it sometimes,» he says. «Everyone knows who is responsible for the explosion that sank the boat. That reminds us all that we might be in danger on a mission.» During the last trip, for instance, illegal fishermen twice attempted to board the boat. As I leave, I ask about the dolphin on the prow. «It greets the dolphins that travel with us,» Daniel said. Overfishing During their 20-day survey of the Mediterranean, the crew observed and recorded the activities of fishermen illegally using the trawl nets they call «walls of death.» Their research describes a grim reality. Boat owners who received compensation from the European Union in 2002 to stop using trawl nets continue to use the same methods. Excessive and often illegal fishing threatens the Mediterranean with disaster. There are no fish longer than 20 centimeters. And only total protection of marine ecosystems will save the species that are at risk of extinction. (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement K, on July 23.