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Greenpeace hands Rainbow Warrior to Bangladesh
by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) Aug 16, 2011

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace on Tuesday handed over its iconic protest ship Rainbow Warrior II to a Bangladeshi charity which will turn it into a floating hospital.

Greenpeace said it hoped that Friendship would continue to use the ship as a beacon of hope.

"This ship has carried people from around the world and has stood as an icon of hope over pessimism and as an emblem of action over complacency," Rainbow Warrior II captain Mike Fincken said during a sombre handover ceremony in Singapore.

"It is time to pass that task on."

Friendship has renamed the vessel Rongdhonu, which also means Rainbow, and will turn it into a hospital ship.

From plying the high seas to protest against whaling and nuclear testing, the ship will now stay close to shore to deliver medical assistance to impoverished communities in Bangladesh, Greenpeace said.

"Bangladesh has a coastline and the condition of healthcare in the coastline is as bad as the river areas," said Runa Khan, the executive director of Friendship Bangladesh.

"More environmental issues are going to come up, and there's going to be more and more tsunamis and cyclones and we need a medical ship fully equipped as a hospital to be able to reach (victims) as soon as possible," she told AFP.

Greenpeace's original Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French intelligence agents in 1985 in New Zealand in a bid to stop activists from protesting against France's nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.

It was replaced by Rainbow Warrior II, which first sailed for the organisation in 1989.

The ship confronted environmental crimes and nuclear testing, provided disaster relief to victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, and blocked shipments of illegal timber from the world's rainforests, Greenpeace said.

The vessel also "sailed against over fishing, whaling, war, global warming and other environmental crimes on every ocean of the world", it said.

Before coming to Singapore for the handover, the ship carried out radiation sampling in waters off Fukushima, the site of the nuclear power plant damaged during the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March.

It will set sail for the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong after the handover.

About 50 guests attended the ceremony at a yacht club, some of them teary eyed.

Crew members removed the ship's steering wheel, which will be fitted into a third Rainbow Warrior currently being built in Germany.

Fincken, the ship captain, rang the green and white ship's bell for the final time and the Greenpeace flag was lowered and replaced by Friendship's banner.

The third Rainbow Warrior vessel will join Greenpeace in October when the group marks its 40th anniversary. Greenpeace had decided to have a ship built instead of buying a used vessel as it did previously.

Fincken said the new Rainbow Warrior will be more fuel efficient and faster than Rainbow Warrior II, which is 55 years old.

"The environmental battles that are happening are getting more and more difficult to champion, to fight, because we need to sometimes go faster," he told AFP on Monday ahead of the handover.

He described the painting out of the word "Greenpeace" on the ship on Friday to give way to a new name as a "touching and emotional moment" for the crew.

"This is more than a ship to us, it was our home," he said.

"It helped shaped our lives and formed us into the people we are... and it had been part of Greenpeace for 22 years.

"People have gotten married, children have been conceived on the boat. It's got a lot of personal memories for many people."

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