34 years later - Remembering the Rainbow Warrior

By Mare Haimona-Riki

On this day 34 years ago, the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was deliberately bombed at Auckland's Marsden Wharf, killing photographer Fernando Pereira.  The incident has been remembered as a monumental event in New Zealand history. 

In early 1985, the Rainbow Warrior was used in the Pacific in campaigning against nuclear testing.  Only two months prior, the ship was used to help evacuate some 300 Marshall Islanders from Rongelap Atoll, polluted by radioactivity from past American nuclear tests at the Pacific Proving Grounds.

The ship had then travelled to New Zealand to lead a flotilla of yachts protesting against French nuclear testing at the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. 

The French government infiltrated the Canada-based organisation and discovered their plans to illegally monitor the blasts the French were planning on executing.

The Rainbow Warrior was then sabotaged and sunk by two explosive devices attached to the hull by operatives of the French intelligence service (DGSE).

Rainbow Warrior sunk as a result of two underwater explosives planted under the direction of the French Govt. Source: Greenpeace

One of the twelve people on board, photographer Fernando Pereira, returned to the ship after the first explosion to attempt to retrieve his equipment and was killed when the ship was sunk by the second larger explosion.

Fernando Pereira aged 35 was working aboard the ship as a Green Peace Photographer - Source: Greenpeace

Two French agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested two weeks after the attack, sparking a crisis in the relations between New Zealand and France.  The pair were sentenced to 10 years in jail but were released early after entering French custody. 

New Zealand received an apology and financial compensation from France but the bombing had a lasting effect on New Zealanders' sense of independence and national foreign policy.

Since the sinking of the ship, there have been two Rainbow Warriors built in commemoration of the original and to continue its mission.  The current Rainbow Warrior is still very active in its involvement in protests and environmental awareness events. 

Last year the ship visited the Wellington Harbour as part of a tour to celebrate the ban on new offshore oil exploration and to promote clean energy opportunities.