Greenpeace ship part of local protest against proposed coal export facilities

Rainbow Warrior docks at Vancouver Landing

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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There aren't many sailboats equipped with a helipad and twin masts that are too tall to fit under the Interstate 5 Bridge.

When such a vessel sails into Vancouver, it's bound to turn heads.

This week's visit by the Rainbow Warrior, one of the ships in the Greenpeace fleet, is part of a West Coast tour highlighting the environmental causes championed by the international organization. The primary focus here: making a statement against coal export facilities proposed in the Northwest, including one in Longview.

"Coal exports is one of the biggest threats that we have right now," said Kelly Mitchell, Greenpeace energy campaigner. "There's no question we need to stop these terminals and keep this coal in the ground."

The Rainbow Warrior arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday. After hosting a few visits and school groups on Thursday, the ship's crew and other Greenpeace staff members plan meetings with local partners and other organizations today. Public tours will be offered Saturday and Sunday. The ship is docked at Vancouver Landing, behind the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay on the Columbia River.

The ship's arrival marks the latest high-profile move on an issue that has vaulted Vancouver and Southwest Washington into the spotlight. A proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver has more recently added a new wrinkle to the controversy.

Nationally known activist and author Bill McKibben visited Vancouver earlier this year. Meetings and demonstrations have drawn hundreds of people locally.

Greenpeace activists joined Cowlitz County residents to display banners against coal exports as the Rainbow Warrior sailed past Longview on Wednesday. If the organization is planning a similar statement in Vancouver before departing next week, activists aren't saying. Greenpeace doesn't announce actions before they happen, said Rainbow Warrior Captain Joel Stewart.

The ship, sharing the same name as two of its predecessors, is the newest member of the Greenpeace fleet, sailing since 2011. It's also the first vessel to be built specifically for the organization, including several features designed to make it an environmentally friendly boat, Stewart said.

First and foremost is the fact that the Rainbow Warrior is a sailboat, meaning it can travel without fuel much of the time. The ship can also run on a hybrid diesel-electric engine if needed, Stewart said. And the design of the 190-foot vessel and its five sails, totaling 13,745 square feet, helps it sail more efficiently, he added.

Those specifications are simply a reflection of Greenpeace's values, Stewart said.

"Our position is that any investment into expanding the fossil fuel industry is a bad investment," said Stewart, an Oregon native.

The Rainbow Warrior is primarily used for activism, research and public outreach, said Greenpeace spokesman Joe Smyth. The ship and its international crew of 15 members have been involved in several actions since 2011. That includes a protest earlier this year during which Greenpeace activists actually boarded a bulk carrier filled with coal off the coast of Australia.

Another Greenpeace vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, has made headlines since last month after it was seized by Russian authorities during a protest against Arctic oil drilling. Thirty activists and crew members, dubbed the "Arctic 30," remain jailed in Russia.

The Rainbow Warrior is scheduled to leave Vancouver and arrive in San Francisco next week.