Rainbow Warrior

In July 1985, the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior berthed in the port of Auckland, New Zealand. She was preparing for a journey to Moruroa Atoll to protest against France’s nuclear testing program in the Pacific. But the ship never left the harbour. On 10 July French secret service agents attached two bombs to the hull of the Rainbow Warrior and sank the vessel. A Greenpeace photographer, 35-year-old Fernando Pereira, was drowned in his cabin. Later investigations revealed that the French government was responsible for the attack. Charles Hernu, France’s defense minister at the time, and French president François Mitterrand knew of the Auckland plot beforehand. The attack was carried out by order of the French government.

Rainbow Warrior - What happened 1985?
A voyage with no return
March 1985
-  There was a cheerful sense of excitement on board the Rainbow Warrior when she set out to sea in March 1985 from Jacksonville, Florida. The crew members were looking forward to their mission and the first port of call was Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific Ocean.

The more than 300 residents had asked Greenpeace for help. They were suffering from the after-effects of the USA’s nuclear weapons tests carried out between 1946 and 1958 at neighbouring Bikini Atoll. They were faced with widespread radioactive contamination, and many inhabitants were left with serious health problems including cancer and babies were born with deformities. The Rongelapese requested the Rainbow Warrior to help them move from their contaminated home island to the island of Mejato. Afterwards, the 44-metre Warrior was destined for another mission. From Mejato, she was due to sail on to Kiribati and Vanuatu, two Pacific countries that were very vocal in their opposition to Japanese plans to dump their nuclear waste in the Pacific. And then onto New Zealand for a short stay before continuing to the Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia to disrupt French nuclear tests.

Early March1985
- Admiral Henri Fages, the commander of the French nuclear testing site in the Pacific, had already got wind of Greenpeace’s protest voyage to Moruroa at the beginning of the year. Somewhat concerned, he informed Pierre Lacoste, the head of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), the French foreign intelligence agency. At the beginning of March, the Admiral got in direct contact with the Minister of Defence Charles Hernu and asked the government to develop suitable strategies to prevent any disruptions. In response, Hernu set up a ministerial working group named “strike force”. On 19 March, the head of the secret service Lacoste received instructions from the Ministry of Defence telling him to stop the Rainbow Warrior protest and to use his agents against the Greenpeace campaign.

April/May 1985
- On April 23, a woman with short, neatly parted hair walked into the Greenpeace office in Auckland. Frédérique Bonlieu was the name of this seemingly reserved young woman who said that she had come to offer her help. The office depended on volunteers so Bonlieu was given the job of sending information leaflets, sorting address labels and taking phone calls to the New Zealand Greenpeace headquarters. It didn’t take long for this young woman to become privy to almost all the details regarding the Rainbow Warrior campaign and the 33-year-old immediately forwarded all the information she picked up during the weeks she spent at Greenpeace to Paris. In fact, Frédérique Bonlieu’s real name was Christine Cabon and she was in the pay of the French intelligence service.

“Opération satanique” was planned shortly afterwards. The idea was for the Rainbow Warrior to be crippled by two limpet mines. The DGSE appointed a unit of combat frogmen trained at Aspretto, Corsica, to plan and carry out the attack.

June 1985
“Opération satanique” got underway with the deployment of the French agents. On June 22, the eleven-metre yacht “Ouvea”, chartered in neighbouring New Caledonia, arrived in New Zealand. This floating operations base had explosives, diving equipment and a Zodiac inflatable boat bought in England on board – as well as several trained frogmen. At the same time, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur also landed in Auckland, under the guise of a married couple from Switzerland called Alain and Sophie Turenge. One day later, a certain Jean Louis Dormand travelled from Los Angeles to New Zealand’s largest city. His real name: Louis-Pierre Dillais, Lieutenant-Colonel of the DGSE and “Opération satanique” coordinator. Together with the divers Alain Tonel and Jacques Camurier, the twelve-man commando team was complete by July 7.

7th July 1985
- Just a few hours later, the Rainbow Warrior entered Marsden Wharf, accompanied by sailing boats and motorboats. Hundreds of New Zealanders turned out to welcome the arrival of the peace ship into the port of Auckland.

10th July 1985
The moon bathed the port of Auckland in bright light. Later that evening two men tied up an inflatable boat with an outboard motor at Marsden Wharf. The New Zealand winter’s night was starlit and cold. The two frogmen, identified by journalistic investigations as Jacques Camurier and Alain Tonel, slipped into their diving suits. They attached their oxygen tanks, fitted breathing masks over their faces and fastened the explosive freight to their neoprene gear. They then disappeared into the water and dived towards the Rainbow Warrior, whose hull appeared in front of them just a few minutes later. One of them swam to the ship’s propeller and fastened the smaller of the two limpet mines to the shaft. The other frogman mounted the second 10kg bomb on the outer wall of the engine room. Once the detonators had been set, the divers made their way back to their inflatable boat. They pulled it up on a beach nearby dropping the outboard motor overboard together with their breathing masks. Finally, they drove away from the scene in a van, which had been rented by Mafart and Prieur.

10th July 1985
- The mess room onboard the Rainbow Warrior was less full than usual on this particular evening (also as it was nearly midnight). Some of the skippers from the flotilla that were preparing to sail with the Warrior and a few crew members were talking in the mess. Other crew were already asleep in their bunks. Earlier the mess had been full, celebrating campaign manager Steve Sawyer’s birthday. Steve later left the boat to attend a meeting ashore. The Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira was still in the mess.

The first bomb detonated at 11.38 at night. A loud bang shook the mess room, knocking the men off their seats and leaving the ship rocking dangerously and the emergency lights came on. “That came from the engine room”, shouted Davey Edwards, the ship’s engineer. He immediately rushed off to inspect the damage and couldn’t believe what he saw. From the top of the engine room stairs, he could see water was gushing into the Warrior through a hole in the side of the ship the size of a garage door. The proud ship started to lean over within seconds and the captain Peter Willcox, who had been asleep in his bunk, called for everyone to abandon ship at once. The ship’s Swiss doctor Andy Biedermann had gone below with Fernando and Martini, the first mate, to check all the cabins and help Margaret Mills the relief cook, out of her bunk and off the boat as she couldn’t find her glasses in the panic.

“She’s sinking, she’s sinking”, shouted Pereira and raced into his cabin to save his valuable camera equipment. At that moment, the second mine detonated and the crew fled to the quay – with one exception. Pereira was knocked unconscious by the blast. The father-of-two drowned in the belly of the sinking ship and his body was recovered the next day by police divers.

11th July 1985
- Steve Sawyer was brought to the telephone shortly after one o’clock in the morning. When he heard the tear-choked voice of his colleague Elaine Shaw, he knew that something terrible had happened. Together with other Greenpeace colleagues, he sped to the police station in Auckland where the surviving crew members were being interviewed. At two o’clock New Zealand time, a short telex arrived in all the offices belonging to the environmental organisation and read, “The Rainbow Warrior was sunk two hours ago in the port of Auckland, New Zealand, after two explosions. Probably sabotage. One crew member is missing.” The headline in the Auckland Star the next morning ran: “Sabotage, says Greenpeace”.

11/12th July 1985
- The news of the deadly explosion caused absolute horror in New Zealand. Never before had this country been confronted with an act of state terrorism. The police set up a special investigative team comprising around 100 officers who collected 400 witness statements and approx. 1,000 items of evidence over the next few days. They got a hot lead after just a few hours: using their binoculars, night-watchmen at a sailing club spotted two men carrying objects from an inflatable boat into a delivery van. As they believed the men to be thieves who had just broken into yachts, the watchmen made a note of the car registration number: LB 8945. The car was then traced to a car rental company near the airport in Auckland, and detectives quickly learned that the van had been hired by a Swiss couple called Turenge. They lay in wait for them and closed the trap on the morning of July 12. The couple wanted to return the rental car but quickly found themselves in handcuffs. However, the other secret agents involved in the operation managed to flee. They were presumably picked up by the French submarine “Rubis”, while the “Ouvea” was deliberately sunk in the Pacific.

The passports belonging to the supposed married Swiss couple proved to be fakes and the pair refused to reveal their true identities, even during police questioning. A phone call that “Sophie Turenge” made from the hotel brought the investigators onto the right track. The call data record came up with a Paris phone number that the police couldn’t trace at first. The French Ministry of the Interior, which had no inkling of its own government’s involvement in the attack, voluntarily provided the necessary information. The number was a strictly confidential contact number for the French secret service.

July – September 1985
- Paris initially denied having anything to do with the attack at all. It was then revealed that two French agents were caught up in the act of sabotage. President François Mitterrand was left with no choice but to set up a fact-finding commission, which was forced to make a partial confession just two weeks later. They admitted that the DGSE had been spying on Greenpeace, but denied any involvement in the fatal incident. While the secret service headquarters was busy destroying files relating to “Opération satanique”, the police, journalists and Greenpeace disclosed new facts on a daily basis. The denials soon proved to be no more than a cover-up. On September 17, the newspaper Le Monde wrote that it had been “proven that the head of the secret service Lacoste and the Minister of Defence Hernu were aware of the attack and had probably even ordered it”. They were both forced to resign 48 hours later. François Mitterrand, who was becoming increasingly bogged down in the affair, managed to stay in office. On September 22, the Prime Minister Laurent Fabius finally admitted what could no longer be denied, saying “Agents of our secret service sank this ship and they acted according to their orders.”

November 1985
- The trial against Mafart and Prieur began in Auckland in front of journalists from all around the world. The prosecutors put forward 100 witnesses to prove the guilt of the accused. Behind the scenes, however, frantic phone calls were being made. Paris wanted to avoid lengthy hearings and further revelations of French secret service methods at all costs, and started to apply pressure on New Zealand, whose economy was dependent on agricultural exports. A deal was agreed between the defence and the prosecution, which could not prove that the two agents were directly responsible for placing the two mines and the resulting killing of Fernando Pereira. At the beginning of the trial, the couple accepted the charges of manslaughter and material damage, and the hearing ended after just 34 minutes. Three weeks later, Mafart and Prieur were each given prison sentences of ten years.

July 1986
- “People who come to this country and commit terrorist activities cannot expect to have a short holiday at the expense of our Government and return home as heroes”, wrote Chief Justice Ronald Davison in his verdict. However, subsequent events showed how mistaken he was. After threats from Paris to use its veto in the European Community to block the import of New Zealand butter and lamb to Europe, a UN-brokered deal was made. Eight months later, Mafart and Prieur were transferred from the Auckland prison “Mount Eden” to a French military base on Hao Atoll in the Pacific, which they were not supposed to leave for three years.

But within two years, the two spies were both back in France. It transpired that Mafart’s mysterious stomach complaints could not be properly treated on the atoll, while Dominique Prieur received a piece of advice from France’s new Prime Minister Jacques Chirac when he visited the two arrested agents at the base: “Madame, we need a good reason to bring you back home. A happy event, for example.” The agent took the hint. Prieur, whose husband had been appointed head of the military base on the atoll, became pregnant and she was, therefore, allowed to return to France in June 1988.

1987 – 1995
- Prieur and Mafart were celebrated upon their arrival in Paris. Shortly afterwards, they were promoted and in the 1990s were awarded an order of merit. Louis-Pierre Dillais, who had organised the mission on the ground and had never been punished for his involvement, was appointed in 1993 as the coordinator of the secret service and personal advisor to the Minister of Defence. Ten years after the murderous attack, the commander-in-chief of “Opération satanique”, General Jean-Claude Lesquer, was named “Grand Officer of the Légion d’Honneur”, the Republic’s second highest accolade.

France paid a total of about 8 million in “compensation” to Greenpeace after arbitration proceedings. Fernando Pereira’s family and New Zealand were also compensated. After the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior was ceremoniously sunk in a New Zealand bay in December 1987, Greenpeace invested part of the compensation package in a new flagship; the second Rainbow Warrior. Greenpeace had grown in strength in the aftermath of the attack. The French terror strike left the rest of the world sympathising with the environmental organisation, leading to more members and donations.

At the end of the affair, some questions still remained open: who had given the final command to sink the ship? How deeply were the Minister of Defence Charles Hernu and President François Mitterrand involved in the planning? Some late answers were provided by the fallen head of the secret service Pierre Lacoste as part of the memoires he published in 1997 entitled “Un amiral au secret”. In this book, he claimed that he personally agreed the mission with Hernu on July 4, six days before the attack. In addition, he stated that he was received by Mitterrand on May 15 and informed him in detail of the planned mission. This was the day, wrote Lacoste, when the President gave his approval for the bombing.
Based on article in German “Greenpeace Magazin” 3/2005, Author: Marco Carini
Concept, design and realization by Kubikfoto³ GmbH, Bremen, Germany
Rainbow Warrior
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