Around midnight on 10 July 1985, French secret service agents bombed the Greenpeace environmental patrol ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand’s Auckland harbour, ripping apart the hull of the ship with two limpet mines.
The 420-tonne ship sank at its Princes Wharf mooring and one crewman – ship’s photographer Fernando Pereira – was killed in the blast.
After initial denials, mounting evidence forced the French government to admit the bombs had been planted by their secret agents with the aim of ending, emphatically, the ship’s planned protest voyage to the French nuclear test site at Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia.
The New Zealand Government caught and prosecuted the French agents – Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur – for terrorism in New Zealand and international pressure forced French Defence Minister Charles Hernu to resign.
Mafart and Prieur were sentenced to ten years imprisonment for Mr Pereira’s manslaughter and seven years for arson. In 1986 they were transferred to a French jurisdiction to serve their terms but by May 1988 both had been released.
The hulk of the Rainbow Warrior was ceremoniously scuttled in the deep clear waters off the island of Motutapere in the Cavalli Islands in December 1987. It is now a living reef and a popular spot for recreational divers.
Greenpeace bought a new vessel, also named Rainbow Warrior, which continued to spearhead other environmental confrontations.