A Serendipitous Story: The Rainbow Warrior

Rainbow Warrior-051

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Opération Satanique,[1] was an operation by the “action” branch of the French foreign intelligence services, the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), carried out on 10 July 1985. During the operation, two operatives sank the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, New Zealand on its way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test inMoruroa. Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the sinking ship.

France initially denied responsibility, but two French agents were captured and charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As the truth came out, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu.

As part of a plea bargain, the two agents pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison, but in fact spent just over two years confined to the French island of Hao before being freed by their government in breach of its treaty obligation.[2]


In January 2007 my family and I were in Auckland when the Rainbow Warrior was in port.  Not the original one, which was bombed in Auckland Harbour on 10th July 1985 – 30 years ago now.

I remember the bombing really well.  We couldn’t believe that terrorism had reached our shores.  And it was later found to be sanctioned by the French government.  The death of  the Portuguese-Dutch photographer, Fernando Pereira was lost among all the anger at France.

Image result for rainbow warrior bombing

It changed our policies – The failure of western leaders to condemn this violation of a friendly nation’s sovereignty caused a great deal of change in New Zealand’s foreign and defence policy.[11] New Zealand distanced itself from its traditional ally, the United States, and built relationships with small South Pacific nations, while retaining excellent relations with Australia, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.

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For me personally it had some long term ramifications.  A couple of years later in 1987 I left New Zealand to travel to Europe.  Entering France now meant having to get a visa, which was only valid for a short term and was rather costly.  Our Australian neighbours, along with the Canadians and Americans on my tour didn’t need to  obtain visas.  It also meant long waits at the borders while we were looked at very carefully.

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It took a long time for relationships to thaw out between France and New Zealand.  Even now we are still dancing around each other a bit.

The Rainbow Warrior was refloated for forensic examination. She was deemed irreparable and scuttled at 34.9748°S 173.9349°E in Matauri Bay, near the Cavalli Islands, on 12 December 1987, to serve as a dive wreck and fish sanctuary.[10] Her masts had been removed and put on display at the Dargaville Maritime Museum.

I prefer to see the dove carrying the olive leaf on a floating ship.

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I found these photos while digging through my archives this morning and thought they would make a good photo story for Marilyn’s challenge over at SERENDIPITY.


Thanks for visiting.

Copyright Raewyn Forbes


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