The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

 The crew of the Phyllis Cormack (also called “Greenpeace”) on-board the ship. Clockwise from top left: Bob Hunter, Patrick Moore, Bob Cummings, Ben Metcalfe, Dave Birmingham, John Cormack, Bill Darnell (who coined term ‘Greenpeace’), Terry Simmons, Jim Bohlen, Lyle Thurston and Richard Fineberg. Photo by Robert Keziere.

The crew of the Phyllis Cormack (also called “Greenpeace”) on-board the ship. Clockwise from top left: Bob Hunter, Patrick Moore, Bob Cummings, Ben Metcalfe, Dave Birmingham, John Cormack, Bill Darnell (who coined term ‘Greenpeace’), Terry Simmons, Jim Bohlen, Lyle Thurston and Richard Fineberg. Photo by Robert Keziere.

On a summer's night in July, 1985 a ship called the Rainbow Warrior lay moored at Marsden Wharf in Auckland, New Zealand. Just before midnight, it suddenly exploded. The bomb which blew it up had been expertly attached to the hull by trained military divers. The attack was aimed at the heart of the international anti-nuclear movement, and it was conducted by the foreign intelligence agency of one nation, and committed on the soil (or water) of one of their allies. The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior showed how very much the fears and insecurities of powerful nations had become misaligned with public opinion, and the positions of their allies, around the world.

This moment was the climax of over four decades of global struggle. It was waged between big, influential nations, like Britain, France and the US, needing to test their new, apocalyptic nuclear weapons, and anti-nuclear organisations, as well as smaller, non-nuclear powers, whose populations had to bear the brunt of those tests. In this episode we explore the context of the anti-nuclear movement, and how it resulted in an epic blunder of covert operations and an international scandal. Throughout this struggle, the integrity of peoples' values will be tested; as will their determination to protect their environment. This integrity will be proven strong enough to withstand even the high magnitude of fear that was the hallmark of the Cold War era.

The Nuclear Era

Whilst the United States and Soviet Union had enough vast territory to test in remote regions of their own lands, smaller nuclear powers such as France and the UK had to rely on the remote areas of their vast colonies, which were safely away from their own populations.

France began testing in Algeria, but was forced to stop by the course of Algerian independence. Britain began testing in South Australia, (which could explain the reasons for many South Australians, but which likely left long term effects on indigenous people who would have been the few near the blasts) but were forced to stop. Both nations then did as the US had already been doing and looked at the vast Pacific for their testing zones.

Protests of New Zealand government against French government

 New Zealand PM Norman Kirk addresses crew of HMNZS Otago before their departure to protest French testing at Mururoa, with cabinet minister Fraser Coleman aboard. Photo by Philip Hare

New Zealand PM Norman Kirk addresses crew of HMNZS Otago before their departure to protest French testing at Mururoa, with cabinet minister Fraser Coleman aboard. Photo by Philip Hare

After campaigning on a promise to diplomatically and actually protest French nuclear testing, in 1972 NZ elected the Labour party and their leader Norman Kirk to government. They went to the International Court of Justice to obtain a ruling against nuclear testing being conducted by France, which was granted. France, however, ignored it, said that the International Court of Justice had little jurisdiction in the matter, and continued going about planning their text explosions. So Kirk put all his cabinet minister's names in the hat, and pulled out that of Fraser Coleman. He was put aboard the Otago, and they set off to tell the French where to go.

Greenpeace

phyliss-cormack.jpg

The NGO was founded amidst the anti nuclear protests movement in the Pacific North West in the 1960s and 70s, at a time when US plans to explode nukes in remote Alaska caused fear of tidal waves hitting the continent.

Marie Bohlen, of the organisation 'Don't Make A Wave', which had sprung out of Vancouver, Canada, borrowed an idea that had been used before, and suggested a protest vessel. The ship that was purchased, the Phyliss Cormack was renamed Greenpeace, which would in turn become the organisation's moniker.

By the 1980s Greenpeace had offices internationally, with a massive protest movement growing out of New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance.

Rainbow Warrior and French Spies

  The Rainbow Warrior docked in Amsterdam in 1981.  Photo by Hans van Dijk

The Rainbow Warrior docked in Amsterdam in 1981. Photo by Hans van Dijk

French Agents

Intelligence gathering

 Christine Cabon

Christine Cabon

Christine Cabon aka Fredereqiue Bonlieu posed as a French environmentalist in order to gain access to the Greenpeace office in Auckland. There, she became privy to the wider plans for action in the Pacific, and fed information to the French foreign intelligence service that they used to plan the attack. She left New Zealand for Israel, prior to the attacks.

When her involvement became known, New Zealand issues an extradition request to Israel, but she got wind of it and managed to leave for France before being brought in.

First covert group: The Ouvea

ouvea.jpg

Under the pretense of being chartered by a rich, French playboy, the crew of the Ouvea were actually French agents; the first covert group. Their part of the mission was bringing the equipment (zodiac, outboard and the explosives) to New Zealand for the operation.

Second covert group: The Turenges

 Alain Mafart

Alain Mafart

 Dominique Prieur

Dominique Prieur

Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur posed as honeymooning Swiss couple, Alain and Sophie Turenge. They brought the equipment from the yacht, Ouvea, to Auckland, where the rainbow warrior was docked. They would then use their rented camper van to run part of the ground operations: picking up agents afterwards, for example.

Third covert group: The divers

  Jean-Luc Kister

Jean-Luc Kister

In 2015 NZTV's Sunday programme tracked down Jean-Luc Kister, who consented to talk openly about the operation which had happened 30 years before.

""For us it was just like using boxing gloves in order to crush a mosquito, it was a disproportionate operation, but we had to obey the order, we were soldiers."

The futile tragedy of it all

Fernando Pereira (1950-1985)

 Fernando Pereira with Rongelap Islander Bonemej Namwe during Greenpeace missions relocating people affected by nuclear testing near the Marshall Islands.

Fernando Pereira with Rongelap Islander Bonemej Namwe during Greenpeace missions relocating people affected by nuclear testing near the Marshall Islands.

Fernando Periera's death is the most lasting impact of Operation Satanique - the planned attack on the Rainbow Warrior. Because of a stupid military decision - to attack Greenpeace - a father was lost to two young children, many others lost a dear friend, and the world lost an ardent environmentalist.

France did not achieve its objective, as Greenpeace activist remains in play today, whilst nuclear testing is (fingers crossed) a thing of the past. But meaning in the loss of Pereira can be found in continued vigilance, activism and rebellion against major powers making majorly stupid decision.

Links

David Barber's original report from onboard the New Zealand government protest ship, HMNZS Otago, 1974.

Newspaper report on trial of Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, 1985.

Documentary produced in 2005 about the bombing of the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland Harbour.