The Sinking of the Greenpeace boat, the Rainbow Warrior
Posted: Apr 24, 2022
The bombing and sinking of the Rainbow Warrior was an embarrassment for the French Government and a blight on the history of good relationships between the countries of New Zealand and France. In 1985 New Zealand was one of the international leaders of the of the anti-nuclear movement at a time when France was still testing nuclear weapons in the pacific, New Zealand’s backyard. This was considered at the time to be a source of embarrassment to the French Government. Just before midnight on the night of 10 July 1985, two explosions blew holes through the hull Greenpeace’s flagship Rainbow Warrior, that was moored at Marsden Wharf in Auckland harbour in New Zealand. This was just before she was on her way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test in Moruroa in the Pacific. A Portuguese national and crew member, Fernando Pereira, was killed by the explosions and the boat sunk in the harbour. All other crew members were safely rescued. The Rainbow Warrior had been involved in many protest actions over French nuclear testing in the Pacific from its base in Auckland.
On 24 July two French secret service officers, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested in New Zealand and were charged with murder. They subsequently pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, much to the considerable embarrassment of the French government. There were an unknown number of other agents posing as tourists involved who were able to leave the country before being caught. That the bombing was committed on New Zealand territory by a country that was supposed to be a friend produced a sense of considerable outrage and a serious deterioration in relations between New Zealand and France. The French initially denied any involvement in the bombings, but the truth was later exposed by the Le Monde newspaper, claiming that the bombing was approved by the French President. The French Prime Minister later admitted France’s involvement. Several politicians, including then New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, called the bombing as an act of terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism. This resulted in trade issues for New Zealand products being exported to the European Union and interference in that by French officials. A year after the bombing the United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced a binding decision in which that New Zealand would receive an apology and compensation of $13 million from France. France was also ordered not to interfere with New Zealand’s trade negotiations. The French agents Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart were to serve their sentences in full on Hao Atoll in French Polynesia. However, both prisoners were released early with Alain Marfart being returned to France because of an alleged illness in 1987 and Dominique Prieur was repatriated in May 1988 because she was pregnant. Both were honoured and promoted upon their return home to France. This caused outrage in New Zealand. France paid also paid $8 million to Greenpeace in damages which they used to finance another ship. It also paid compensation to the Pereira family.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.