The Bombing of the Warrior (1985)

No ho sabia… i m’ha indignat, 21 anys després, però m’ha indignat.

On the night of July 10 1985 the Rainbow Warrior had been docked in Auckland harbour for three days while preparations for the protest voyage to the nuclear test site at Moruroa Atoll were finalised.

On board the Rainbow Warrior that night were several of the crew and a number of local Greenpeacers. Martini (Gotje, first mate), skipper Pete Willcox, engineer Davey Edwards, Bene Hoffman, radio operator Lloyd Anderson, Rien Achterberg and Fernando Pereira were all having a drink in the ship’s mess. Bunny (McDiarmid) was visiting relatives and Henk was at a meeting in the ship’s theatre. All the skippers of the peace flotilla were there. Relief cook and peace squadroner Margaret Mills had baked a chocolate cake for Steve’s (Sawyer) birthday. After the birthday celebration the assembled skippers met in the ship’s theatre to discuss schedules and routes. Margaret, Pete and Lloyd were asleep in their cabins by 11:30, all the others either departed or were up in the mess talking…

At 11:49 an electric blue flash was seen in the water beside the Warrior, quickly followed by a huge explosion. ‘Bloody hell… It’s from the engine room,’ shouted Davey Edward after he was thrown from his chair against the wall. As everyone raced from the mess, Davey ran to the engine room. He was hardly able to open the door. It was like a huge steam bath, with water hissing in through the gaping hole torn in the ship’s side.

Captain Pete Willcox, jolted awake, stumbled down to the engine room. One look was enough. ‘Abandon ship, everyone get the hell out of here!’ he shouted as the ship keeled over towards the wharf.

Fernando Pereira was worried about his cameras. He called out that he was going below to get them. He was quickly followed by Martini, who couldn’t find his partner Hanne Sorensen and was worried she might still be in their cabin. The two men skidded down the stairs together. Martini checked out the cabin in scant seconds and made for the deck again, then the wharf. Fernando was in his cabin when the second blast went off, barely two minutes after the first.

There was panic on the wharf. No one had seen Fernando come back up. Martini was still asking, ‘Where’s Hanne?’ Someone said they thought she’s gone for a walk earlier.

Elaine (Shaw, director of Greenpeace New Zealand) had just returned home from Piha when the telephone rang. It was a New Zealand Herald reporter who wanted to talk to her about the Rainbow Warrior. ‘At one o’clock in the morning!’ she snapped. ‘Oh I’m sorry. Didn’t you know? Your ship’s been sunk.’ Elaine slammed the phone down in shocked disbelief. Then it rang again – a local radio station this time. ‘No, I don’t know anything about it,’ she said firmly, heart pounding, and hung up. She rang Steve (Sawyer) and the Piha contingent immediately set off for the city.

When they arrived the wharf area was already cordoned off and they were directed to the Wharf Police Station, where the crew,some wrapped in blankets, sat pale-faced and in shock. It was 2 am. The only good news was that Hanne had turned up safe after a walk into the city.

By 4 am divers had recovered Fernando’s body. He had drowned, trapped in his cabin, the straps of his camera bag tangled around one leg.

As it emerged that the bombing was a deliberate act of sabotage, there was little doubt in Greenpeace minds who was responsible. Two days after the bombing the French Embassy in Wellington issued a statement echoing the flat denials emanating from Paris. ‘In no way is France involved,’ it declared. ‘The French Government doesn’t deal with its opponents in such ways.’ But within a few days police had arrested French secret service agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur as they tried to return their van to an Auckland hire company. While they were held in custody, the charter yacht Ouvea, carrying another team of agents implicated in the bombing, sailed to Norfolk Island and then disappeared a few days out to sea heading north for Tahiti. Her crew was reportedly picked up by the French nuclear submarine Rubis, which turned up in Tahiti on July 22 – the first time a French nuclear submarine had been known to enter the South Pacific.

The international outcry pressured the French Government into setting up its own inquiry. After less than three weeks the head of the inquiry, Bernard Tricot, a former Director-General of the Elysee Palace, announced, ‘On the basis of the information available to me at this time, I do not believe there was any French responsibility.’ The French agents caught in New Zealand were merely there to spy on Greenpeace, Tricot implied, not to bomb them.

Hostility towards the French Government grew after President Mitterrand threatened that any protesters at Moruroa that year would be arrested, and refused to meet with Greenpeace International director, David McTaggart. Rather than cool the growing international controversy, the transparently inadequate Tricot report served only to fuel the fires of indignation and further undermine the French Government’s credibility, so that a second inquiry was ordered on 5 September, but it was already too late.

Following claims in the London Sunday Times that President Mitterrand had known of the bombing plan, and implicitly, therefore had authorised it, French Defence Minister Charles Hernu resigned and Admiral Pierre Lacoste, director of the DGSE, France’s intelligence and covert action bureau, was sacked. Within days Prime Minister Fabius admitted French secret service agents had bombed the Rainbow Warrior under orders. It was, said New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, nothing more than ‘a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism’.

Charged with murder and arson, on 4 November Mafart and Prieur, just two of a much larger team of saboteurs, pleaded guilty in the High Court at Auckland to lesser charges of manslaughter and wilful damage and were each sentenced to ten years’ jail. Their guilty plea ensured that the facts of the police investigation would never be made public. In June 1986, in a political deal presided over by the United Nations Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, France agreed to pay compensation of NZ$13 million (US$6.5 million) to New Zealand and ‘apologise’, in return for which Mafart and Prieur would be detained at the French military base on Hao atoll for three years.

To cap it all, the two spies were both free by May 1988, after less than two years had elapsed, Mafart having been smuggled out

by Fernando Pereira


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