On This Day

The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

The Rainbow Warrior sunk in Auckland harbour
The Rainbow Warrior sunk in Auckland harbour

Historical Context

In 1985, French secret service agents planted two bombs and the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, sinking the vessel and killing Portugal-born Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira.

The Rainbow Warrior was in Auckland, New Zealand preparing to sail to Mururoa Atoll to continue protesting against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

The French government initially denied all knowledge of the operation, but it soon became obvious that they were involved.

Eventually, prime minister Laurent Fabius appeared on television and told a shocked public: “Agents of the DGSE (Secret Service) sank this boat. They acted on orders.”

Following the attack, two DGSE officers, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested on 24 July. Both were charged with murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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.

Photo Info

Date taken: July 11, 1985
Location taken: Auckland, New Zealand

Source: Greenpeace

Related Events

  • 1985-07-10 French foreign intelligence agents blow up the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor, New Zealand to prevent it interfering with French nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira is killed.
  • 1985-07-24 French DGSE officers Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart are arrested and charged with murder over the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior
  • 1985-08-26 French government denies knowledge of bombing of the Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland New Zealand
  • 1985-09-22 French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius appears on TV to confess "Agents of the DGSE sank this boat [Rainbow Warrior]. They acted on orders.”

Historical Photos