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The Rainbow Warrior and The People of Greenpeace : South East Asia Tour

As the Facebook ads started popping up weeks in advance of the Rainbow Warrior’s arrival in Malaysia, excitement on social media locally began to grow. Many expressed their admiration of Greenpeace online, never imagining that there would come a day that they would be able to walk upon the decks of the Rainbow Warrior (“RW”) herself. We had two days of high spirits, aboard the iconic ship.

Davina, my fellow eco-warrior in The Green Guerrilla, had been a Greenpeace volunteer for a couple of years. She didn’t hesitate to pull Benny Price (also a Guerrilla mate) and I in for the ride when an opportunity to work with them for the RW’s South East Asia tour came up.

We were thrilled; to contribute also meant we could be experiencing the Rainbow Warrior herself in a more casual, intimate manner. It’s often a more authentic experience when a person goes behind the scenes to contribute, plus it feels good to give. I’m sure Greenpeace’s volunteers that week felt the same way (volunteer at Greenpeace here!)

So we rocked up at Port Klang on Day 3 of the RW’s Malaysia stop and were greeted by Albert and Therese, ready to bring us onboard. Over the weekend, an overwhelming 2,500 visitors had already shown up to see the Rainbow Warrior.

They’re halfway through the stop, with staff and volunteers working hard from morning to night to bring the experience of the Rainbow Warrior and their call for action against plastic pollution to Malaysia. You’d think they’d be exhausted by Day 3, but the smiles on their faces told me it didn’t matter. They were moved at the strength of the Malaysian crowd that turned up, a new generation looking to be inspired to do more for the environment.

Therese, affectionately called Tet, used to be a Greenpeace donor for years, before joining them as the Media Relations Coordinator for South East Asia in 2015. Now, Tet’s warm presence gives her the chance to use her skills for a purpose close to her heart.

Apparently, it’s not uncommon. Many origin stories we heard that day started with a person who has been a donor or volunteer with Greenpeace for some time before joining the cause full-time.

I looked at Davina and grinned, “I swear Dav, you’ll be the next one to join Greenpeace”. She laughed in agreement. She had just come off a big high the day before, cooking a delicious vegan lunch as a guest chef onboard as a way of thanking the crew of the RW for all that they do. Almost every crew member we walked by that day exclaimed at how much they enjoyed the meal.

We hopped into a smaller boat which carried us from port and approached the Rainbow Warrior. She is a beautiful ship, a glorious sight to behold.

The Rainbow Warrior

The Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s most iconic ship, often sails to remote areas to bear witness and take action against environmental destruction. The third to carry her name, the current Rainbow Warrior sails primarily under wind power and is one of the most energy-efficient ships in the high seas today.

As groups of people took boat tours and learnt about Greenpeace’s environmental causes on board, the crew operated business as usual. They smile affably, and greeted visitors walking by. Sure, there was a lot of excitement happening on board for the tour, but this was very much a working ship. Everyone on crew had a vital role to play to ensure the ship runs as it should.

I was not familiar with life on a boat, but Benny was able to shed some insight. In a distant past, Benny had (ironically) worked on ships in the oil and gas industry before finding a path that aligned to his values.

As we walked into the mess a.k.a the dining room, we see a scattering of crew going about their day and Greenpeace staff from across the region.

Fresh Water: Desalineated, Processed and Filtered from the Ocean!

I had my water bottle, and as always I was curious to where I could get it filled and where the ship’s water source was from. Someone pointed out the water dispenser, with water desalinated , filtered and processed straight from the ocean.

For a zero waste girl who was always searching for the next water cooler, it was a pretty cool moment to be drinking from the one on the RW. It tasted a little unusual (mmm… freshly desalineated), but nothing I couldn’t get used to.

Benny was pleasantly surprised himself. On previous boats he has worked on, they had hundreds of plastic bottled water on board for the crew for the entire duration they were at sea. And they couldn’t just toss plastic bottles into the trash after they were done. They used a precise method to compact all those plastic bottles to its smallest possible size, as it didn’t take long for the available spaces to really fill up with waste. Thankfully, this wasn’t a problem on the Rainbow Warrior.

We sat down to some food they had leftover from lunch. The crew is fed by Willie, the amazing chef on board that cooks vegetarian meals 6 days a week. We’re told that not everyone is a hardcore vegan, hardcore zerowaster, or hardcore anything here.

But they are all conscious, keeping an open mind and seeking truth behind the destruction of the environment, and take personal steps to be responsible in their habits. So even if they may not be practising vegetarians, they go “Sure, why not? It’s good for me anyway” and dig in to delicious vegetarian meals with enthusiasm.

The crew also sort their own waste into compost and recycling.

They take trash seriously around here.

Charlie, the Garbologist

We met Charlie, who later showed us around the ship. She is dubbed ‘The Garbologist’ on board, and will spend the next two months on the Rainbow Warrior. Among her duties as a deck hand, she’s in charge of managing all the garbage that has been sorted into bins, compacting them, and making sure they fit into a small space until they can offload it at the next port. “It’s like playing Tetris”, she grins.

After all crew members have sorted their own waste into the right bins, Charlie then squares them away until they can offload the lot at their next port to be composted and recycled. She was good fun and full of cheer, dishing out bear hugs to people we passed.

The vibe was one that put me at ease, an atmosphere of relaxed conversation in the company of some real easy going people. I still felt pretty awestruck being on the RW, but it felt strangely normal sitting there chatting in the mess of the iconic ship; a playful argument between Vegemite or Marmite, listening to the story behind a tattoo.

As we chattered on, my head went into a sudden fog, and in an instant I felt like I was going to fall over. “What’s HAPPENING!? ” I yelled, clutching to a chair, as Davina and Benny cracked up. “Do SOMETHING, DAVINA!”

She did. Davina whipped out her phone and started video-ing me while she laughed, as Benny explained, “The boat is moving, but you can’t see it. And your body doesn’t know how to react.” They both have their sea legs, and evidently, I was not made for life on a ship yet.

A bearded man I recognised, walked barefooted into the mess to grab a snack. With a full grey beard, he looked like how I imagined a captain from a story book would look like.

Captain Peter Willcox has been serving with Greenpeace for more than 30 years. A lifelong environmental activist, he’s an impressive man, having even been involved in the bombing of the first Rainbow Warrior and the arrest of the Arctic 30. He tells us, he doesn’t feel like wearing shoes while he’s on the boat. Well, he’s definitely earned that privilege. Not that he would encourage anyone else to do it of course, for safety reasons.

After spending the last 3 months on the ship, he’ll be leaving that night. The incoming female captain, Captain Hettie Geenan, will be rotating in as captain of the ship for the next few months. “Pretty uncommon”, Benny remarked, as ships are usually a male dominated world.

I started noticing the many women among the crew and in positions of leadership too as we spent more time on the RW. We had already met Charlie, and the First Mate, Maria, was also a capable young lady. It’s a strange thing to watch out for until someone else points it out to you. How the worlds differed, and in the world of environmental activism, it knows no gender.

Davina and I would be put to work later that day. We were hosting a Facebook Live tour of the ship led by Farhan Nasa, the ship’s medic and the only Malaysian sailing on board the RW. I would also be emceeing the VIP dinner later that night.

Joshua Paul, a cameraman and video journalist, stepped in to shoot throughout that day. As we hung out with Joshua and his fellow cameraman, Rahman, we learnt that they’ve been contributing their manhours to Greenpeace for a couple of years. There are many ways to give to a cause, and it’s really cool to see people contribute their skills in functional ways. Just think of a skill that you have, it could be the job you have or a passion that you’re working on, and offer it. I’m glad we were able to do exactly that that day.

(L-R): Albert Lozada, Davina Goh, Melissa Tan, Joshua Paul, Benny Price, Therese Salvador

The mess looked like a meeting point of friends coming from all over, updating each other on successes , sharing about what they’ve worked on since the last time they met. As I met the people of Greenpeace in person, my regard of them grew.

The cameraderie and good spirits on board had me tempted, I wondered, “what if I run away and become an environmental activist too?”. But campaigning in the fight for the environment is not for the faint hearted, and the people here are very real examples of just that.

Albert the Lionheart

Albert himself had quite a few tales to share. In the years of Albert Lozada’s life as an environmental activist, he’s been deported from a country before, and even narrowly avoided an encounter which resulted in the ambush and murder of a comrade. From his cheerful demeanour, you wouldn’t guess that he’s no stranger to danger. He remains his joyful and unassuming self, always ready for a good chat. You can tell the joy he gets in sharing his stories. While I made memories in a sheltered life, Albert made memories in the field with the people and communities he fought for, locals displaced and severely affected when corporate greed override the welfare of the community and environment.

As we spoke at length about our experiences, I pondered over a question I’ve personally struggled with in my own journey. I asked Ben Muni, “What happens in those moments, when you feel demotivated and discouraged? You guys see it happen up close, you see the destruction. You’re in the thick of it. Or, does that thought even occur?” He chuckled, “Yes, it happens, many times. But, you keep going.”

We’ve heard the saying, “Surround yourself with good people”, many times before, haven’t we? Well, we were in great company here. I was surrounded by a myriad of people from all over the globe, passionately working to move the world and themselves in the right direction. The energy was infectious. The inspiration was so real, so tangible, you feel it swell in your heart thinking of all the ways you could contribute to the world at large.

Like when Yeb speaks, and you feel like you’re hearing about the environment for the first time and how we must take action for her. A great boost for anyone’s spirits. His words are simple, but they have the power to move you to act, to fight, to change.

“When we don’t act, everyday we lose an opportunity to make an impact” – Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia

We may know the name Greenpeace, but not always the names of the force behind Greenpeace, the people. The ones changing the world, one peaceful step at a time.

The best part is, everyone goes headfirst into it not because they want to change the size of their wallets or the size of their influence. They do it so that everyone wins, so that the world can have Greenpeace’s vision of a green and peaceful future.

I lingered for hours that day, reluctant to leave. I could tell Davina felt the same way; we could stay here forever. The crew cracked open beers and sat in the cool breeze. Albert has had several nights up late himself; in company like this it’s hard not to get caught up in conversations to engage you till the late hours.


Speaking at the Forum on The Single Use Plastic Problem

I came out of my eco-shell not too long ago into the open, yet I was warmly welcomed to join in on the panel of the World Environment Day Public Forum the next day, to share as a #zerowaste advocate and an eco-chick using social media to reach the masses with the message of conservation.

True to form, I dressed in one of my well-used outfits. A vintage top I got for zero dollars from a clothing swap, and a 3 ringgit second-hand denim skirt from an op shop.  Sustainability in fashion was an area I gravitated towards, even before the zero waste journey began.

I felt almost silly at first. I was in the company of Captain Hetty, Aurora Tin (Founder of Zero Waste Malaysia), Donovan Louis (a Greenpeace consultant), and Nabila (from EcoKnights) on the panel, not to mention the Greenpeace staff, crew and volunteers in the audience.

How could I compare? I was on a boat with so many who worked tirelessly for the environment.

But with Davina moderating, an earnest discussion was soon underway amongst the panel and audience. Afterwards, crew, staff, and fellow panelists mingled and offered many words of support and encouragement. They showed me that I shouldn’t feel less than, everyone’s contribution was something to be valued. After all, Greenpeace and the RW was here to inspire US towards a stable climate and a healthy environment.

The journey of an eco-conscious life is an inclusive one. As long as you carry yourself sincerely and back it up with action, you have a place at this table. A figurative table (probably made out of a figurative sustainably grown wood) where people, regardless of origin, come together to move the rest of the population to follow suit. And there’s always room for one more.

Whether you’re campaigning amongst the people, the corporates, or the government. With your voice and actions in your world or with social media; as an individual or with an organisation. Or even with a ship. Anyone who answers the call with a heart for the environment is a hero in their own way. As Arnie once said,

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

Along the way; we appreciate, encourage and support each other on our eco-journeys. Let the message of hope in Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior carry forth in all of us.

The Green Guerrilla on the Rainbow Warrior (L-R): Melissa, Davina, Benny

About Greenpeace

Greenpeace, a name known throughout the world, is an independent campaigning organisation with a presence in 55 countries. They believe in using non-violent direct action to expose environmental problems and to force solutions which are essential to a green and peaceful future.

To uphold their independence, Greenpeace as a global organisation is fully funded by individual donors, they do not accept funding from any form of government, corporations, or political parties. Truly, the power of the people. Donate to Greenpeace today.


Sticker memorabilia from Greenpeace and partners all over the world
The Rainbow Warrior’s Kwakiutl symbol of harmony with nature


  • Faridah says:

    I am one of Malaysia Greenpeace volunteer and reading this make me reminiscing about all the memories during RW ship tour at port Klang. Missed all those moments. :’)

    • melissatan says:

      Thanks for dropping by, and it’s wonderful that you’ve contributed your time! Till’ the next Greenpeace adventure!

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