Rainbow Warrior Ship Bombed 25 years ago

In the 1980s, France was carrying out nuclear weapons tests on small islands in the South Pacific. Greenpeace was preparing to visit Mururoa in French Polynesia to protest about France’s nuclear tests. The Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was tied up in the Auckland harbour on 10th July 1985 when two bombs which were attached to the bottom of the ship exploded just before midnight. Only one man was on the ship at this time and he was killed. He was a Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira.

Two French spies were arrested but three others escaped in a yacht. The spies, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were found guilty of manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were sent to a small island in the Pacific but after less than two years, they returned to France.

This has been New Zealand’s only terrorist attack.

Later the French President, Mitterand, admitted that he had ordered the bombing. The French government wanted to stop Greenpeace from protesting about the French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Later the French government paid $13m to New Zealand in compensation. The French did not stop their nuclear testing in the Pacific for another 10 years. Listen to March 24th 2009 for more about this.

The Rainbow Warrior ship wreck was taken to the Bay of Islands where today it is explored by divers. The ship was only 40m long so it is possible for divers to swim all around it quite easily. Divers can see the hole made by the bomb.

Today, an exhibition of photographs opened in Whangarei to show people more about the background to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

1. Why, do you think, did France carry out nuclear weapons tests above ground in French Polynesia instead of underground in France?
2. Did France know of the dangers from nuclear radioactivity?
3. Why did France want nuclear weapons?
4. What do you know about Greenpeace? Do they still protest about nuclear weapons testing or are they more worried about other environmental matters today?


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