August 26, 1985: France denies knowledge of Rainbow Warrior attack

Greenpeace's protest flagship Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French agents in NZ.

Greenpeace's protest flagship Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French agents in NZ. Photo: Getty

On this day in 1985, the French government denied all knowledge of the operation to bomb and sink the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour.

However, they were later forced to concede that two French secret service agents had planted two bombs on the boat, sinking the vessel and killing Portugal-born Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, on July 10, 1985.

Rainbow Warrior was moored in New Zealand’s Auckland harbour preparing to sail to Mururoa Atoll to continue protesting against French nuclear testing in French Polynesia.

After denying any involvement in the sinking, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius ultimately appeared on television to announce: “Agents of the DGSE [Secret Service] sank this boat. They acted on orders.”

The attack shocked the world and was the first act of terrorism on NZ soil.

Less than two weeks after the attack, two French agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested on July 24.

Both were charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The case not only embarrassed the French government, but also caused years of diplomatic and trade ructions between the two previously friendly nations.

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