The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Sam Perry
March 15, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: A memorial mosaic in Auckland Harbour for the Rainbow Warrior. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On July 10th 1985, a Greenpeace ship by the name of Rainbow Warrior was moored at Marsden Wharf in the Harbour of Auckland, New Zealand. The Rainbow Warrior had been involved in many protests over French Nuclear Testing in the Pacific region. It was sank by two French Secret Service Operatives who were sent to prevent it from further protesting in a planned campaign at the Mururoa Atoll. One crew member of the ship was killed during the sinking. [1]

The Explosion

French agents who were posing as interested tourists took a tour of the ship while it was open for viewings from the public. One DGSE agent, Christine Cabon, posed as a Suisse environmentalist and volunteered to work in Greenpeace's Auckland Offices in order to gather necessary information on the underwater equipment of the ship. After Cabon had gathered the required information, two DGSE divers, Jacques Camurier and Alain Tonel, planted two limpet bombs on the sides of the Rainbow Warrior and set them off just before midnight on July 10 1985, two minutes apart. [2]

The Death

Portuguese-Born crew member Fernando Pereira was killed during the sinking, although his death was certainly not what the DGSE Agents had hoped for. Their plan had been to set the first bomb off as a warning sign for the crew to evacuate, with the second bomb being the true ship-sinker. [3] At the time that the first bomb went off many of the crew had retired to their cabins below deck to sleep. Upon noticing the inflow of water to one of the below water compartments, the captain ordered evacuation of the ship. At this point all crew members did evacuate except Pereira, who returned to his cabin to retrieve his camera gear. It is believed that the second explosion was detonated while Pereira was in his cabin, with the now rapid inflow of water making his escape impossible. Post-mortem examinations showed no signs of bodily damage sustained from the explosions, leaving his cause of death as drowning. [3]

The Aftermath

The public of New Zealand was obviously upset at the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. It was a peaceful protest vessel resting in the harbours of a friendly nation. It is evident that there remains an emotional attachment to this event among New Zealanders as seen by there being several memorial sites around Auckland, with one being the mosaic (seen in Fig. 1). Despite the French Government's efforts to stop the protests at Mururoa, a flotilla of private New Zealand yachts sailed there to halt the Nuclear testing in the aftermath of the bombing. [1] In 1987, after much pressure coming from all over the world, France paid $8.16mm to Greenpeace for damages and to finance a new ship. [4] It was also ordered to pay 650,000 francs to Pereira's wife, 1.5mm francs to his two children, and 75,000 francs to each of his parents. [2]

© Sam Perry. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Thakur, "A Dispute of Many Colours: France, New Zealand, and the Rainbow Warrior Affair," The World Today 42, No. 12, 209 (Dec 1986).

[2] "Case Concerning the Differences Between New Zealand and France Arising from the Rainbow Warrior Affair," United Nations, Internationl Arbitral Awards, Vol. XIX, pp. 199-221, 6 Jul 86.

[3] D. Robie, "The Rainbow Warrior Bombers, the Media and the Judiciary," Pacific Media Center, Auckland University of Technology, 25 Nov 07.

[4] P. Shabecoff, "France Must Pay Greenpeace $8 Million in Sinking of Ship," New York Times, 3 Oct 87