Rainbow Warrior (1978)

The Rainbow Warrior (sometimes unofficially Rainbow Warrior I) was a former UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) trawler later purchased by the environmental pressure group Greenpeace. She was active in supporting a number of Greenpeace protest activities against seal hunting, whaling and nuclear weapons testing during the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was sunk whilst in harbour in New Zealand by operatives of the French intelligence service (DGSE) on 10 July 1985, killing one of the activists.

Early career

The Rainbow Warrior was built in 1955, in Aberdeen, Scotland as a trawler named Sir William Hardy, and entered service with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. She served until 1977 when she was put up for sale by the Ministry. She was acquired by Greenpeace at a cost of £40,000 and underwent a four month refit. She was re-launched on April 29 1978 as Rainbow Warrior, the first ship to serve with Greenpeace. Further modifications followed, with the replacement of the engines in 1981 and the fitting of sails in a ketch rig in 1985.

With Greenpeace

In early 1985 Rainbow Warrior was in the Pacific campaigning against nuclear testing. At the beginning of the year she evacuated some Marshall Islanders who were living on an atoll polluted by radioactivity from past American nuclear tests at the Pacific Proving Grounds.

She travelled to New Zealand to lead a flotilla of yachts protesting against French nuclear testing at the Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. During previous nuclear tests at Mururoa, protest ships had been boarded by French commandos after sailing into the shipping exclusion zone around the atoll. For the 1985 tests Greenpeace intended to monitor the impact of nuclear tests and place protesters on the island to illegally monitor the blasts. The French Government infiltrated the Canada-based organisation and discovered these plans.

The Bombing

The Rainbow Warrior, then captained by Peter Willcox, was sabotaged and sunk just before midnight NZST (1pm BST, 8am EDT) on July 10 1985 by two explosive devices attached to the hull by operatives of the French intelligence service (DGSE). One of the twelve people on board, photographer Fernando Pereira, returned to the ship after the first explosion to attempt to retrieve his equipment, and was killed when the ship was sunk by the second larger explosion.

A murder enquiry began and a number of the French agents were tracked and arrested. The revelations of French involvement caused a political scandal and the French minister of defence Charles Hernu resigned. The captured French agents were imprisoned, but later transferred to French custody and subsequently released. After facing international pressure France agreed to pay compensation to Greenpeace, and later admissions from the former head of the DGSE revealed that three teams had carried out the bombings. In addition to those successfully prosecuted, a two-man team had carried out the actual bombing but their identities have never been officially confirmed.

The wreck of the Rainbow Warrior was refloated on 21 August 1985 and moved to a naval harbour for forensic examination. Although the hull had been recovered the damage was too extensive for economic repair and the vessel was scuttled in Matauri Bay in the Cavalli Islands, New Zealand on 2 December 1987, to serve as a dive wreck and fish sanctuary. The move was seen as a fitting end for the vessel. Indeed, the hull is now covered with a large colony of vari-coloured sea anemones. The masts were salvaged and now stand outside the Dargaville Museum. A second ship, named Rainbow Warrior after the first vessel, was acquired in 1989.

Rainbow Warrior in the arts

Several fictionalized films have been made about the ship including The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy (1989), The Rainbow Warrior (1992), and two French films Operation Rainbow Warrior and Le Rainbow Warrior (both 2006). In addition, a number of musicians and bands have referenced the original Rainbow Warrior and the sinking, including the Belgian band Cobalt 60, the New Zealand band The Bats and the Argentinian metal band Rata Blanca. Geffen Records released a double album, Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors, in 1989 and included songs from artists such as U2, INXS, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and White Lion. Swedish band Europe also had made a demo called 'Rainbow Warrior' on their 'Le Baron Boys' release, though whether it refers to the ship or not is unknown. A number of books have also been written, including Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior, produced the year after the sinking and written by shipboard author David Robie.


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