Rainbow Warrior sunk in Auckland

10 July 1985

Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior (New Zealand Herald/newspix.co.nz)

One crew member died when French secret agents mined the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Waitematā Harbour, Auckland. 

The Rainbow Warrior had taken part in protests against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. French Secret Service (DGSE) agents were sent to prevent it leaving for another protest campaign at Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago. They attached and exploded two limpet mines on the hull of the ship, creating a massive hole and rendering the vessel useless. Photographer Fernando Pereira was killed when the second mine exploded while he was retrieving equipment after the first explosion.

DGSE officers Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart were arrested while attempting to leave the country and charged with murder. After pleading guilty to manslaughter, they each received a 10-year prison sentence. Within a year, the pair were sent to French Polynesia, and from there they soon returned to France.

The case caused the French government considerable embarrassment. While the attack was on an international organisation and not New Zealand as such, most Kiwis did not make this distinction. The fact that it was carried out on New Zealand territory by a supposedly friendly nation caused outrage and seriously compromised relations between New Zealand and France.