By Stuart McDill
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Environmental campaign group Greenpeace welcomed a new incarnation of their flagship Rainbow Warrior to Sydney on Friday, saying the vessel - whose sails cut its use of fossil fuels - will fight for the future of the Great Barrier Reef.
The reef, a popular tourist site worth billions of dollars annually to the Australian economy, is threatened by dredging, sedimentation and coal port and shipping development. UNESCO will decide in June whether the reef should be listed as a World Heritage Site in danger.
"Having the Rainbow Warrior here in Australia to confront the out-of-control coal industry undoubtedly brings a lift to a campaign that tens of thousands of Australians are already part of," said David Ritter, Greenpeace Australia CEO.
The 850-tonne ship has hi-tech rigging that includes two A-frame masts, 54 meters (177 feet) high, that allow air to flow over the sails without interruption. This enables the ship to sail completely without use of fossil fuels when the winds are right.
"We don't like burning fossil fuels either so we built a real sailboat," said Peter Willcox, the boat's captain, who was a volunteer on the original Rainbow Warrior in 1985, when it was bombed and sunk while in port in New Zealand.
The new ship is en route to Queensland to join the campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef from a planned expansion of the coal industry.
Ritter said Greenpeace is not anti-mining but that there is a direct link between the expansion of the coal industry on the east coast of Australia and the health of the reef.
"You cannot build up to nine new coal terminals in a World Heritage area and not experience real damage. What we are talking about here is nothing less than the industrialization of the Great Barrier Reef," Ritter said.
"It's no wonder UNESCO are very concerned, and that could prove deeply embarrassing for Australia," he added.
Heralded as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the 2,000 km (1,200 mile) Great Barrier Reef is home to 400 types of coral, 240 species of birds and 1,500 species of fish. It is worth A$6 billion ($6.13 billion) a year in tourism to the economy.
(Reporting by Stuart McDill, editing by Elaine Lies)