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The Rainbow Warrior
The silence of an Auckland evening, just a few minutes before mid-night, was about to be turned into a situation of hysteria and confusion as an explosion shattered the night. A few minutes later, a second explosion roared as loud as the first. This was the start of an international incident that was to shock the New Zealand public and strain the diplomatic ties between two countries. The real cost was the loss of a human life – Fernando Pereira, a man that believed in peaceful demonstration.
It was a typical winters day on the 9th of June 1985. That day saw the flagship of the Greenpeace flotilla, the Rainbow Warrior, dock at Marsden Wharf, replenish it’s provisions then that night host a quiet party on board. Unknown to the party-goers the happenings of sabotage were beneath them. Yet to the French Government, a military operation was in action by their hand. An operation that was to have a worldwide impact on France and the credibility of New Zealand politics.

Prior to the Rainbow Warrior arriving French agents had already entered New Zealand under the guise of tourists. Their attitude to the task at hand seemed relaxed probably due to the knowledge of NZ’s innocence of internal espionage. They appeared over-confident about their mission. This was identified when a person was observed on the night of this tragedy leaving the water from an inflatable Zodiac dinghy and getting into a rental van which had been hired to two “foreign tourists” who spoke with French accents. Another occasion happened some days before when a tourist, with a French accent, asked two bushmen if they had seen a man and woman driving a rental van. The bushmen noticed that inside the vehicle was an inflatable and an outboard motor.

The NZ Police painstakingly and diligently investigated and gathered evidence which when shown to the Crown prosecutors, successfully brought convictions against the two French agents. Notwithstanding the rights or wrongs of those French agents, the fact remains that the ship’s photographer, Fernando Pereira, was murdered and the Rainbow Warrior lay semi-submerged at her berth.

Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur, who were travelling on Swiss passports under false names, were apprehended at the rental company office and charged with murder which they denied. They pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison.

With diplomatic intervention and a $13 million settlement to the New Zealand government, Mafart and Prieur were released from a New Zealand prison after serving less than two years.They were to complete their sentence on Hao atoll under French supervision. Within 18 months both returned to France and in 1994 Mafart was promoted to full colonel.

And as for the Rainbow Warrior….
She took her final voyage to Matauri Bay where she was scuttled in 27 metres of water in sight of the Cavalli Islands. The Rainbow Warrior is now home to countless reef fish and scuba divers.


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The story of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior - flagship of the Greenpeace flotilla.

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