You can’t sink a Rainbow

A car sized hole

A car sized hole Photo: Gil Hanly

30 years ago at 11.38pm a limpet mine blew a ‘car-sized hole’ in the side of a ship berthed at Marsden Wharf in Auckland.  At 11.45pm a second mine sunk the vessel and killed Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira who had returned below decks to retrieve his camera and films.  That first blast (photo above) was ostensibly just a frightener to get the vessel evacuated before the blast intended to sink her.

The ship was the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s flagship on it’s way to protest a French nuclear bomb test at Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia.  At first there was disbelief that such a thing would happen here, then as the truth slowly emerged mounting anger and above all a sense of betrayal that the French govt. (a supposed ally) would carry out an act of terrorism let alone within NZ.  More disappointment followed when neither the US or UK governments so much as raised an eyebrow in the direction of France.

Sitting on the bottom at Marsden Wharf Photo John Miller?

The bombing was carried out by the French DGSE with approval up through the chain of command to the French President, Francois Mitterand.  Of 7 DGSE agents involved Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, travelling under false Swiss passports,  were found on NZ soil and charged.  Under economic pressure from France (NZ was very reliant on agricultural exports to the UK which had joined the EEC), a deal was hatched where Alain and Dominique could serve their 10 year sentences for manslaughter at a French military base on Hao Atoll, they were released in under 3yrs.

Other DGSE agents involved were Christine Cabon  undercover in the Auckland Greenpeace office,  Roland Verge, Petty Officer Bartelo and Gérard Andries. Verge, Bartelo and Andries were detained by Australian Police in Norfolk Is then released.  They were then picked up from their yacht, Ouvéa, by the French submarine, Rubis, which scuttled the Ouvéa.  Louis-Pierre Dillais, headed the mission and later became an executive in a US subsidiary of arms manufacturer FN Herstal. (abridged from Wikipedia page)

The French Prime Minister at the time, Laurent Fabius, is doing OK

Laurent Fabius by Malcolm Evans, Copyright The Press

Laurent Fabius by Malcolm Evans, Copyright The Press(Christchurch)

It wasn’t just the French who had conducted nuclear tests in the Pacific, on their way south the crew of the Rainbow Warrior had evacuated Rongelap in the Marshall Islands.

This also wasn’t the first time French tests had been protested, here’s a doco from 1973 at which time tests were atmospheric.

At Matauri Bay Photo: Gil Hanly

At Matauri Bay Photo: Gil Hanly

After forensic examination the Rainbow Warrior was stripped and scuttled as a dive wreck in Matauri Bay, on 12 December 1987.  The story behind this decision and the construction of a memorial sculpture by Chris Booth on a headland overlooking the bay is portrayed in this video made in 1991.  The video also gives a good overview of the Maori concept of mauri (life-force) which is found in all things animate and inanimate and respect for nature.

You can’t sink a Rainbow

The Rainbow Warrior was named after a North American Cree Indian prophecy: “When the world is sick and dying, the people will rise up like Warriors of the Rainbow…” (from the Greenpeace website)

But a rainbow can sink a government.  Copyright reserved.  Taranaki Daily News by James Lynch

But a rainbow can sink a government. Copyright reserved. Taranaki Daily News by James Lynch

Despite the subsequent ousting of Mitterand, France had to be forced to pay compensation to the NZ Govt. and to Greenpeace.  France has not apologised to NZ or Greenpeace not even to the family of Fernando Pereira.

At least 2 of the photos on this page were taken by Gil Hanly, more photos and a recent  interview of her experiences at the time of the bombing can be found here.

For more detail and further references refer to the links below:

This entry was posted in Nuclear test, Politics, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You can’t sink a Rainbow

  1. I Like this entry Graeme, (but not only this one). Just wanted to write it out like this.


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