Sinking the Rainbow Warrior

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The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was sunk on July 10, 1985 by agents of the French Service Action in Auckland, New Zealand .

Rainbow Warrior, December 1985 in Auckland

Course of events

In 1985 Greenpeace demonstrated against French nuclear weapons tests on the Mururoa Atoll . The Rainbow Warrior had come from the North Pacific, where he had in the evacuation of the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands belonging Rongelap Atoll helped. Residents suffered from the health effects of radioactive radiation as a result of nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Greenpeace, the ship should lead a flotilla of ships to protest against the impending nuclear tests at Mururoa.

The Rainbow Warrior under Captain Peter Willcox had been anchored in Auckland for three days. On the evening of July 10, 1985, divers attached two bombs to the hull. A meeting of Greenpeace activists was over, the ship was quiet when the first bomb detonated at 11:38 p.m. The second explosion followed shortly thereafter, causing the ship to sink. Of the twelve crew members , the Dutch-Portuguese Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira drowned .

Monument on Matauri Bay

The wreck of the Rainbow Warrior was lifted on August 21, 1985 and towed into port for forensic investigation. Although the hull could be restored, the damage was so great that it would have been uneconomical to repair. Therefore, the ship was sunk on December 2, 1987 in the Cavalli Islands off Matauri Bay . Today the wreck is a popular diving destination at a depth of 30 meters. A memorial for the ship was erected on the bay.


The operation known as “Operation Satanique” by the French secret service was financed from the “fonds speciaux”, a kind of official “ black fund ” that only the President of the Republic can dispose of, and was always covered by the French government.

Two of the six agents were identified by the New Zealand police using the license plate number of their rental car and arrested. The two agents entered the country with forged passports as the Swiss couple Turenge. They were Captain Dominique Prieur and Major Alain Mafart , a combat swimmer . A New Zealand court sentenced the two agents in November 1985 to ten years in prison for arson and manslaughter each .

The other perpetrators, including the combat swimmer Jean-Luc Kister, escaped with the help of the Rubis nuclear submarine (S601) and were covered by the French government, which had ordered the sinking.

After the sinking

Through the disclosure of the daily Le Monde on September 17, 1985, it became known that a total of three French teams were active in Auckland and that one of them (consisting of French soldiers) had carried out the scuttling. A journalist who played a key role in the unveiling was Edwy Plenel .

In order to free the detained French agents, the then French government under President François Mitterrand considered in mid-1986 the establishment of an EU- wide import ban on lamb and butter from New Zealand and threatened to further extend the economic sanctions. New Zealand and France appealed to the Secretary General of the United Nations , Javier Perez de Cuellar , to act as mediator in order to avoid further escalation. Following an order of the Secretary-General in July 1986, the two detained perpetrators were dismissed by the late photographer from the New Zealand prison for compensation of the family and should of 22 July 1986 to 22 July 1989 her sentence on a French base in the Pacific , on the Hao Atoll , dismount. This was set out in an agreement between New Zealand and France in 1986. Agent Alain Mafart was flown to Paris in December 1987 for urgent medical treatment. The flight and medical treatment were necessary, but they shouldn't have lasted more than two to three weeks. France failed to return the agent to Hao. In May 1988, France informed the New Zealand authorities that Agent Dominique Prieur was pregnant. She was brought to France because of her age as medical treatment was not available on Hao. An arbitration tribunal agreed in the agreement was called after these incidents: It found a breach of contract by France and sentenced France to compensation. Furthermore, the arbitral tribunal recommended that a joint fund be set up to promote friendly relations between the citizens of the two states. France made an upfront payment of $ 2 million.

Most of those involved remained in the service of the French government. The French Defense Minister Charles Hernu (1923-1990) resigned on September 20, 1985 from his office. Prime Minister Laurent Fabius appointed Paul Quilès his successor. In the DGSE , Admiral Pierre Lacoste was replaced by General Thierry Imbot.

Twenty years after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior , at the beginning of July 2005, the then head of the secret service, Pierre Lacoste, announced to the AFP news agency that the sinking was known up to the top of the French government; French President François Mitterrand was also inaugurated. Lacoste to the agency: "The President told me that if things go bad, [Defense Secretary Charles] Hernu and Lacoste will be kicked out." With this statement, Lacoste expressed deep regret over the death of Fernando Pereira. He also said that the entire "Operation Satanique" was poorly prepared and planned too hastily.

Those responsible in the French government were never brought to justice. In 1987, under strong international pressure , the French government paid $ 8.16 million in compensation to Greenpeace and more than $ 7 million to the New Zealand government. The Fernando Pereiras family received compensation of the equivalent of 300,000 euros. An official apology was only given to the New Zealand government, not to the relatives concerned. The commander-in-chief of "Operation Satanique", General Jean-Claude Lesquer, was named " Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor " around ten years after the sinking , the second highest honor in France.

On the occasion of the French presidential election campaign in 2007 , the media took up the issue again. Newspapers claimed that the brother Antoine of the socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal , was directly involved in the demolition. He is said to have attached one of the two explosive devices to the ship. This was denied by Ségolène Royal.

Media reception


Musically, the Rainbow Warrior I became the topic several times:

  • The German band Alphaville mentioned them in their song Fantastic Dream on the 1986 album Afternoons in Utopia .
  • The Argentine metal band Rata Blanca dedicated the song and album Guerrero del Arco Iris to the ship in 1991 .
  • The band Fiddler's Green dedicated a song of the same name to the events of the Rainbow Warrior in 1995.
  • The New Zealand songwriter Anika Moa is mainly known in Germany for the title Anchor Me on the Greenpeace single of the same name, which was released on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the sinking.


  • 1989: Rainbow Warrior - The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy - Australia; Director: Chris Thomson ; Genre: Drama, Thriller; 93 min.
  • 1992: Attack on The Rainbow Warrior - United States, New Zealand; Director: Michael Tuchner ; Genre: Drama, Thriller; 100 min.
  • 2009: The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island - Netherlands; Director: Suzanne Raes ; Genre: Documentary; 89 min.
  • 2017: 1985, le Rainbow Warrior - France; Director: Mélanie Dalsace; German version: The great lies of history. Attack on environmental protection (German adaptation by Spiegel TV 2019); Genre: Documentary; 44 min.



See also

Web links

Commons : Rainbow Warrior I  - Collection of Images


  • Matthias Beermann: The attack on the "Rainbow Warrior": devilish bungling. In: Damals , No. 7 (2015), pp. 10–13.
  • Malte König: Greenpeace in the sights of France. The sinking of the "Rainbow Warrior" as a media and diplomatic scandal in 1985/86. In: History in Science and Education 69.1-2 (2018), pp. 5–17.
  • Helmut Roewer , Stefan Schäfer, Matthias Uhl : Lexicon of the secret services in the 20th century . Herbig, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7766-2317-9 .
  • The Sunday Times Insight Team: Rainbow Warrior. The French attempt to sink Greenpeace. London 1986.
  • Maurice Vaïsse: The "Rainbow Warrior" affair. In: Wolfgang Krieger (ed.): Secret services in world history. Espionage and covert actions from ancient times to the present. Cologne 2007, pp. 375-386.

Individual evidence

  2. ^ Matthias Beermann: The attack on the "Rainbow Warrior": Devilish bungling. In: Damals , No. 7 (2015), pp. 10–13, here pp. 10–11.
  3. Kieran Mulvaney: The whaling season: on inside account of the struggle to stop commercial whaling , Iceland Press, 2004 - Page 15
  4. Sigrid Totz: The attack on the Rainbow Warrior - A beret, a bottle of Beaujolais and a baguette. Greenpeace , July 10, 2012, archived from the original on October 5, 2013 ; accessed on April 26, 2018 (English, original website no longer available).
  5. ^ Matthias Beermann: The attack on the "Rainbow Warrior": Devilish bungling. In: Damals , No. 7 (2015), pp. 10–13, here p. 10.
  6. Michaela Wiegel : The journalist who brought Hollande into distress ; in: FAZ.NET , April 4, 2013; Retrieved April 28, 2016
  7. See Neuhold, Hummer, Schreuer (Ed.): Austrian Handbook of International Law. Volume 2 - material part . 4th edition, Vienna, pp. 521–525.
  8. ^ Nigel Kellaway : Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts Submission 939 . (PDF; 90 kB) Nigel Kellaway , July 17, 2015, accessed on May 21, 2019 (English, letter).