The officials working late in the Beehive on that July evening in 1985 must have registered some grim satisfaction as they compiled the dossier of incriminating documents that would be dispatched to Paris later that night.
While the New Zealand public was still unaware of just who was behind the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, Cabinet ministers had known within three days of the blasts that the finger of suspicion was already pointing firmly in France's direction.
But their disbelief and anger alone was not going to breach the wall of denials, lies and obstruction being hastily erected in the French capital.
A week later, the New Zealand Government had gathered sufficient evidence to bring down the curtain on this Gallic farce.
The diplomatic bag containing the confidential police file detailing progress of the 10-day-old investigation into the sinking of the Greenpeace vessel was forwarded to the New Zealand Embassy in Paris and delivered to the ornate headquarters of France's foreign ministry on the Quai d'Orsay.
The ministry's diplomats - the elite of the sprawling French bureaucracy - were to get a rude shock. But they quickly realised the game was over, even if other arms of the French Government would prove more reluctant to embrace the embarrassing truth.
The New Zealand Government was effectively saying: "We know enough to know France did it. Here, judge the evidence for yourself."
After the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in the Waitemata Harbour on the night of July 10, New Zealand authorities initially treated the sabotage as a purely criminal matter, rather than the assumed work of terrorists.
To those suspecting the French were the likely culprits given Greenpeace's campaign against testing of its nuclear force de frappe on Muroroa Atoll, Paris had issued a very loud "non".
The outright denial was something of a relief to New Zealanders unwilling to contemplate that a friendly country could cold-bloodedly sanction what David Lange would later describe as "a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism" and what Sir Geoffrey Palmer still calls "an act of war".
However, with two suspects in custody, the New Zealand police and the Security Intelligence Service tracking the movements of some 13 French agents, knew otherwise.
Twenty years on, Gerald Hensley, who was head of the Prime Minister's Department, has told the Weekend Herald of the Lange-approved plan to confront the French with the evidence.
"When we initially said we knew all about the bombers, they just laughed," he recalls. "It was only when we produced the file that they realised just what detail we had of the agents' movements. They acknowledged their secret service had been in New Zealand. They started talking to us on more realistic terms."
It would still be two months before that realism, assisted by leaks to the French media, would win over attempted whitewash and finally bring a humiliating admission from the Fabius government that the DGSE, the French secret service, had placed the explosives that sank the Rainbow Warrior.
The overnight announcement from Paris was the cue for an early morning prime ministerial press conference in Wellington, which saw an ebullient Lange performing a delayed act of national catharsis as he vented the deep public fury at France for its blatant breach of international law.
"It was the end of innocence," declares Sir Geoffrey of the unprecedented violation of New Zealand sovereignty.
While the-then Deputy Prime Minister doubts there was much spin-off for Labour, others say the humbling of France did an already-popular Government no harm.
"There was a sense of patriotism and a government always wins out of that," remembers Richard Prebble, who was also a Cabinet minister. "Lange, who had a great sense of polls, rode it for all he was worth."
Sir Geoffrey agrees. "Lange ran this from beginning to end and he ran it very well. He was always inspired in a crisis. He was decisive ... and he was outraged."
The two former ministers also believe the bombing - in the immediate aftermath of the Anzus rift - helped cement Labour's anti-nuclear policy into an icon of national identity. A nuclear power was behaving like the neighbourhood bully. New Zealanders were indignant, but proud that French arrogance and duplicity had been exposed.
However, France proved impervious to shame. Soon enough, Paris was applying what Sir Geoffrey calls "relentless and unreasonable pressure" to secure the release of Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, the two agents caught by police before they could fly out of New Zealand.
Sir Geoffrey says that as early as September 1985 - barely two months after the bombing - he agreed to talk to French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas while the pair were in New York on United Nations business.
The two meetings at the New Zealand mission - the precursor to secret negotiations the following year - amounted to a French fishing expedition to test the New Zealand Government's resolve.
While the French argued the pair were guilty only of following orders, Sir Geoffrey insisted New Zealand justice would run its course. It did. Mafart and Prieur were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years' jail in December 1985.
Lange point blank refused to deport them. Paris retaliated by blocking New Zealand exports, notably lambs' brains, from entering France.
"This was a very, very unprincipled act to try to coerce us," says Sir Geoffrey of the big power-small nation imbalance.
But he and Lange could see the much bigger writing on the wall - a French veto blocking New Zealand's vital access to the British lamb and butter market, which was up for renegotiation in Brussels.
"It was clear New Zealand could not win a trade war against France."
In June 1986 Lange formally announced the dispute would be mediated by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. In fact, New Zealand officials, led by the late Chris Beeby, had already been secretly hammering out a deal with French counterparts in Geneva, but the secretary-general's imprimatur was required for the settlement to carry weight.
New Zealand got a formal apology, trade undertakings and $13 million in compensation. France secured the release of Mafart and Prieur from New Zealand prison to the French military base on the barren Pacific atoll of Hao, where they were to be confined for three years.
Sir Geoffrey argues the terms of the settlement show that diplomacy worked in New Zealand's best interests, especially in explicitly stopping France from destroying New Zealand's butter trade with Britain.
"We could not have really got a better outcome. Principle was vindicated. The French cynically thought we would have to comply with what they wanted. But we held them to account in international law much more effectively than they expected we could."
Prebble sees it differently. He and other Cabinet colleagues were resigned to the inevitability of a deal following the agents' convictions.
But striking one was made even more difficult by France's failure to put up a defence for Mafart and Prieur at their High Court trial. Given they were first offenders and accessories to manslaughter, Prebble argues they could have expected relatively light sentences. Instead, they got 10 years - terms which Prebble says delighted the public, but horrified the Cabinet.
"It was obvious the agents could not serve that long. The truth of the matter was that both governments were keen to move on and the UN settlement's purpose was to placate public opinion."
It did not.
Lange had always coupled his trenchant criticism of the French Government with the proviso that he did not want to jeopardise relations with Paris. He had also drawn a distinction between releasing the two agents to freedom and releasing them to French custody.
However, his frequent declarations the New Zealand justice system was "not for sale" were thrown back at him by critics when the settlement was announced.
Hensley says officials had urged Lange to be more cautious in his statements, while Prebble says the Cabinet was worried by the strident tone of his language.
Prebble believes Lange should have softened up the public to the necessity of resolving the dispute as soon as possible, given the importance of the bilateral relationship. Sir Geoffrey disagrees, saying Lange could hardly have been tough one moment and weak the next.
No one was surprised when the French later breached the settlement and repatriated the agents to France on dubious medical grounds, firstly Mafart in December 1987 and Prieur the following May.
New Zealand, powerless to stop them, invoked the settlement's arbitration procedures.
In May 1990, an international panel determined the agents not be ordered back to Hao, but recommended France contribute $3.5 million to a "friendship fund" to foster better ties with New Zealand.
A year later, French Prime Minister Michel Rocard delivered a final, more sincere apology on New Zealand soil at a state luncheon in the Beehive banquet hall, just seven floors below where those officials had worked so assiduously on that July evening six years earlier.
* The Weekend Herald sought to interview David Lange, but he declined.
Covert attack by French military frogmen on a civilian ship in peacetime
|Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior|
A 2D profile drawing of Rainbow Warrior.
|Date||10 July 1985 (1985-07-10)|
|Location||Port of Auckland, New Zealand|
|Caused by||Retaliation for protests by Greenpeace against French nuclear testing|
|Goals||To sink Rainbow Warrior|
|Resulted in||Rainbow Warrior sunk, 1 person killed|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Opération Satanic, was a bombing operation by the "action" branch of the French foreign intelligence services, the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), carried out on 10 July 1985. During the operation, two operatives sank the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior in the port of Auckland, New Zealand on its way to a protest against a planned French nuclear test in Moruroa. Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the sinking ship.
France initially denied responsibility, but two French agents were captured by New Zealand Police and charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As the truth came out, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence MinisterCharles Hernu.
The two agents pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison. They spent just over two years confined to the French island of Hao before being freed by the French government.
Several political figures, including then New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, have referred to the bombing as an act of terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism.
Sinking of the ship
French agents posing as interested supporters or tourists toured the ship while it was open to public viewing. DGSE agent Christine Cabon, posing as environmentalist Frederique Bonlieu, volunteered to work in the Greenpeace office in Auckland. Cabon "was no ordinary lieutenant...a veteran of many dangerous intelligence missions in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon." Cabon secretly monitored communications from the Rainbow Warrior, collected maps, and investigated underwater equipment, in order to provide information crucial to the sinking.
After sufficient information had been gathered, two DGSE divers, Jacques Camurier and Alain Tonel, attached two limpet mines to the Rainbow Warrior berthed at Marsden Wharf. They were detonated 10 minutes apart. The first bomb went off at 23:38, blasting a hole about the size of an average car. Agents maybe intended the first mine to cripple the ship so that it would be evacuated safely by the time the second mine was detonated. However, the crew did not react to the first explosion as the agents had expected. While the ship was initially evacuated, some of the crew returned to the ship to investigate and film the damage. A Portuguese-Dutch photographer, Fernando Pereira, returned below decks to fetch his camera equipment. At 23:45, the second bomb went off. Pereira drowned in the rapid flooding that followed, and the other ten crew members either safely abandoned ship on the order of Captain Peter Willcox or were thrown into the water by the second explosion. The Rainbow Warrior sank four minutes later.
Operation Satanic was a public relations disaster. France, being an ally of New Zealand, initially denied involvement and joined in condemning what it described as a terrorist act. The French embassy in Wellington denied involvement, stating that "the French Government does not deal with its opponents in such ways".
After the bombing, the New Zealand Police started one of the country's largest police investigations. Most of the agents of the French team escaped from New Zealand but two, Captain Dominique Prieur and Commander Alain Mafart were identified as possible suspects. Posing as the married couple Sophie and Alain Turenge, Prieur and Mafart were identified with the help of a Neighbourhood Watch group, and arrested. Both were questioned and investigated. Because they were carrying Swiss passports, their true identities were discovered, along with the French government's responsibility.
Three other agents, Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge, Petty Officer Bartelo and Petty Officer Gérard Andries, who sailed to New Zealand on the yacht Ouvéa, were arrested by Australian police on Norfolk Island, but released as Australian law did not allow them to be held until the results of forensic tests came back. They were then picked up by the French submarineRubis, which scuttled the Ouvéa.
A sixth agent, Louis-Pierre Dillais, commander of the operation, was never captured and never faced charges. He acknowledged his involvement in an interview with New Zealand state broadcaster TVNZ in 2005.
Once it was realised that the bombing was the action of the government of a friendly state, the New Zealand government stopped referring to it as a "terrorist act", instead calling it "a criminal attack in breach of the international law of state responsibility, committed on New Zealand sovereign territory". The "breach of international law" aspect was referred to in all communications with the United Nations in order to dissuade any arguments from the French government that might imply justification for their act.
More than 30 years on, TVNZ's Sunday programme tracked down the French spy who planted the bombs. Jean Camas, who retired from the DGSE in about 2000, confessed to planting both bombs on the hull of the ship. After the bombing on 10 July, Camas, using the alias Jacques Camurier, and several others posed as tourists, and took a ferry to the South Island, went skiing at Mt Hutt, and then left the country using false documents about 10 days later. Reporter John Hudson, who spent two days with Camas in France, said that Camas "wanted an opportunity to talk about his role in the bombing... It has been on his conscience for 30 years. He said to us, 'secret agents don't talk', but he is talking. I think he wanted to be understood." Camas considered the mission "a big, big failure".
Prieur and Mafart pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on 22 November 1985. France threatened an economic embargo of New Zealand's exports to the European Economic Community if the pair were not released. Such an action would have crippled the New Zealand economy, which was dependent on agricultural exports to the United Kingdom.
A commission of enquiry headed by Bernard Tricot (fr) cleared the French government of any involvement, claiming that the arrested agents, who had not yet pleaded guilty, had merely been spying on Greenpeace. When The Times and Le Monde claimed that President Mitterrand had approved the bombing, Defence Minister Charles Hernu resigned and the head of the DGSE, Admiral Pierre Lacoste (fr), was fired. Eventually Prime Minister Laurent Fabius admitted the bombing had been a French plot: on 22 September 1985, he summoned journalists to his office to read a 200-word statement in which he said: "The truth is cruel," and acknowledged there had been a cover-up; he went on to say that "Agents of the French secret service sank this boat. They were acting on orders."
In the wake of the bombing, a flotilla of private New Zealand yachts sailed to Moruroa to protest against a French nuclear test.
At that time, French nuclear tests in the Pacific were halted. However, another series of tests was conducted in 1995.
Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior
A Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior benefit concert at Mt. Smart Stadium, Auckland, on 5 April 1986 included performances by Herbs, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Topp Twins, Dave Dobbyn and a Split Enz reunion.
The Rainbow Warrior was refloated for forensic examination. She was deemed irreparable and scuttled at 34°58′29″S173°56′06″E / 34.9748°S 173.9349°E / -34.9748; 173.9349 in Matauri Bay, near the Cavalli Islands, on 12 December 1987, to serve as a dive wreck and fish sanctuary. Her masts had been removed and put on display at the Dargaville Maritime Museum.
On 14 October 2011, Greenpeace launched a new sailing vessel called Rainbow Warrior III, which is equipped with an auxiliary electric motor.
In 1987, after international pressure, France paid $8.16m to Greenpeace in damages, which helped finance another ship. It also paid compensation to the Pereira family, reimbursing his life insurance company for 30,000 guilders and making reparation payments of 650,000 francs to Pereira's wife, 1.5 million francs to his two children, and 75,000 francs to each of his parents.
The failure of Western leaders to condemn this violation of a friendly nation's sovereignty caused a great deal of change in New Zealand's foreign and defence policy. New Zealand distanced itself from its traditional ally, the United States, and built relationships with small South Pacific nations, while retaining excellent relations with Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.
In June 1986, in a political deal with Prime Minister of New ZealandDavid Lange, presided over by United Nations Secretary-GeneralJavier Pérez de Cuéllar, France agreed to pay NZ$13 million (US$6.5 million) to New Zealand and apologise, in return for which Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur would be detained at the French military base on Hao Atoll for three years. However, the two agents had both returned to France by May 1988, after less than two years on the atoll. Mafart returned to Paris on 14 December 1987 for medical treatment, and was apparently freed after the treatment. He continued in the French Army and was promoted to colonel in 1993. Prieur returned to France on 6 May 1988 because she was pregnant, her husband having been allowed to join her on the atoll. She, too, was freed and later promoted. The removal of the agents from Hao without subsequent return was ruled to be in violation of the 1986 agreement.
Following the breach of the arrangement, in 1990 the secretary-general awarded New Zealand another NZ$3.5 million (US$2 million), to establish the New Zealand / France Friendship Fund. Although France had formally apologised to the New Zealand Government in 1986, during a visit in April 1991 French Prime Minister Michel Rocard delivered a personal apology. He said it was "to turn the page in the relationship and to say, if we had known each other better, this thing never would have happened". The Friendship Fund has provided contributions to a number of charity and public purposes. During a visit in 2016, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated that the incident had been "a serious error".
In 2005, French newspaper Le Monde released a report from 1986 which said that Admiral Pierre Lacoste (fr), head of DGSE at the time, had "personally obtained approval to sink the ship from the late president François Mitterrand." Soon after the publication, former Admiral Lacoste came forward and gave newspaper interviews about the situation, admitting that the death weighed on his conscience and saying that the aim of the operation had not been to kill. He acknowledged the existence of three teams: the yacht crew, reconnaissance and logistics (those successfully prosecuted), plus a two-man team that carried out the bombing.
A 20th anniversary memorial edition of the 1986 book Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior by New Zealand author David Robie – who was aboard the bombed ship – was published in July 2005.
The French agents
Twenty years after the bombing, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) sought access to a video record made at the preliminary hearing in which the two French agents pleaded guilty. The footage had remained sealed since shortly after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. The two agents opposed release of the footage—despite having both written books on the incident—and unsuccessfully took the case to the New Zealand Court of Appeal and, subsequently, the Supreme Court of New Zealand. On 7 August 2006, judges Hammond, O'Regan and Arnold dismissed the former French agents' appeal and TVNZ broadcast their guilty pleas the same day.
In 2006, Antoine Royal revealed that his brother, Gérard Royal, had claimed to be involved in planting the bomb. Their sister is French Socialist Party politician Ségolène Royal who was contesting the French presidential election. Other sources identified Royal as merely a Zodiac pilot, and the New Zealand government announced there would be no extradition request since the case was closed.
In 1993, Louis-Pierre Dillais was appointed to an elite espionage position in the office of Defence Minister Francois Leotard. He later became an executive in the U.S. subsidiary of Belgian arms manufacturer FN Herstal and as of May 2007[update] lived in Virginia in the United States. In 2007 the New Zealand Green Party criticized the government over its purchase of arms from FN Herstal. At that time, Greenpeace was still pursuing the extradition of Dillais for his involvement in the act.
Jean-Luc Kister, leader of the French operation, spoke to TVNZ in 2015 admitting his lead role and feelings of responsibility for the lethal attack. He also pointed to the French President, as commander of the armed forces and intelligence services assigned the operation.
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- Michael King, Death of the Rainbow Warrior (Penguin Books, 1986). ISBN 0-14-009738-4
- David Robie, Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior (Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1987). ISBN 0-86571-114-3
- The Sunday Times Insight Team, Rainbow Warrior: The French Attempt to Sink Greenpeace (London: Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1986). ISBN 0-09-164360-0
- Wright, Gerry (2012). Rainbow Warrior Salvage (1st ed.). Auckland: Gerry Wright. ISBN 9780473227500.
Films (all are productions for television):