Pacific Media Watch

29 June 2015

REGION: Rainbow Warrior's 'last voyage' to Rongelap left lasting legacy

Pacific Media Watch contributing editor Alistar Kata's video report on the Rainbow Warrior legacy. Pictured: Campaigner Steve Sawyer in a bum bum boat at Rongelap. Image: David Robie/PMC

Alistar Kata
AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): The last voyage of the first Rainbow Warrior - right up until the bombing in Auckland three decades ago - left a lasting legacy for New Zealand and the future of activism in the Pacific.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Bunny McDiarmid was a deckhand on board the Greenpeace ship on the mission to Rongelap Atoll, and at the time of the bombing was in bed asleep at her parent’s house.

“It was hard to believe or imagine," she says.

“It wasn’t until we saw the ship on the side that you really thought it was real”.

It was campaigner Steve Sawyer’s 29th birthday when he found out about the bombing by French secret agents on 10 July 1985.

While due at a meeting in Piha, he received a phone call from Elaine Shaw, who ran the Greenpeace nuclear campaign in New Zealand at the time.

“And she called me and she said, ‘there’s been a fire and an explosion on board the ship and it’s sunk at the dock, come now’, and I said, ‘holy moley, okay”.

But the Rainbow Warrior voyage wasn’t just an environmental mission, it was also a humanitarian one.

While in the Marshall Islands, a journalist had pointed Sawyer in the direction of the Rongelap Atoll, a place where the United States did their nuclear testing.

While the Rongelap mission was the last voyage for the original Rainbow Warrior, its environmental campaign work was then carried on by Rainbow Warrior II in 1989-2011 and was replaced by a state-of-the-art "green" ship, Rainbow Warrior III, which has been in Vanuatu for post-cyclone humanitarian work.

Read and view more stories by AUT student journalists on the Eyes of Fire microsite linked to the book by Pacific Media Centre director David Robie being launched by Little Island Press next week.

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Alistar Kata

Pacific Media Watch project contributing editor 2015

Alistar Kata is of Cook Island, Māori (Ngapuhi) descent and is a Communication Studies Honours student at AUT and Pacific Media Watch contributing editor.