The Rainbow Warrior: The True Story Of The Sinking Of The Greenpeace Ship

On July 10, 1985, Greenpeace’s flagship the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by agents of the French foreign intelligence services while docked in New Zealand’s Auckland harbor. According to, the attack was meant to terrorize the environmental organization and hinder its efforts to peacefully protest France’s nuclear weapons testing on an island in the South Pacific.

As governments are wont to do when caught conducting secret operations, French authorities denied any involvement in the incident. Then two days after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, New Zealand authorities arrested two members of the French foreign intelligence agency known as the DGSE. France continued to deny responsibility. As pressure from New Zealand mounted, France launched an investigation into the incident that weeks later concluded that the French agents had only gone so far as to spy on Greenpeace, but hadn’t carried out any such attack. But a report by a British newspaper later that year revealed proof that the operation had been authorized by none other than French President Francois Mitterrand. His cabinet members dropped like flies and the country finally fessed up to the deed by way of an admission by Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.

One crew member of the Rainbow Warrior died in the attack

In 2014 the BBC spoke with Pete Wilcox, captain of the Rainbow Warrior about the attack. Shortly after going to bed sometime after 11 p.m., he felt the boat shudder and his first thought was that another boat had collided with the Rainbow Warrior. But he quickly discovered that it had been a bomb that tore a hole six feet wide in the hull of the ship. After a second blast rent another hole in the boat, he gave the order to abandon ship.

Everybody made it off the ship except one. Photographer Fernando Pereira (pictured above) had gone to his cabin after the first bomb went off, hoping to save his cameras and other equipment. He was trapped in his cabin when the second bomb went off. New Zealand authorities initially suspected the Greenpeace members themselves of having staged the attack, but reversed course after they found that the bombs had been placed on the outside of the boat. “Here was a world super power and a bunch of hippies on an old British trawler had scared them so badly that they were quite happy to murder us,” Wilcox said, adding that no apologies had been proffered to the victims, their families, or Greenpeace at the time of the interview. The French government remains officially unrepentant about the attack, but as The Guardian reports, one of the agents involved did apologize personally in 2015.

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