David McTaggart on the Vega
In June of 1972, David McTaggart raised a pair of binoculars
from the deck of his 38-foot ketch, Vega. He and two crew had been
70 days at sea, and they were stationed in the forbidden zone
outside Moruroa, the Pacific atoll where the French government
tested nuclear weapons in the atmosphere.
His aim was to stop the test blast with his ship's presence. But
he was unsure whether the French would detonate the bomb regardless
of his defiance. That morning, June 17th, he saw the balloon go
aloft which signalled detonation was imminent.
The French military had been ghosting the Vega throughout its
stay in the forbidden zone, and communicated orders to leave.
Helicopters had buzzed the masts. The crew of the Vega had expected
to be boarded and physically removed from the area. Now it appeared
that a decision had been made to simply detonate the bomb --
protestors be damned.
His fingers too swollen to write, McTaggart kept an audio diary
of those days which has recently come to light.
You can listen here to his entry for that evening.
McTaggart, Nigel Graham, and Grant Davison made wooden blocks to
seal the vents of Vega against fallout. They made plans to throw
their stove and generator fuel overboard so it wouldn't ignite.
They'd agreed that if they survived the blast and the shockwave
that two would stay below and one would go up into the deadly
fallout on deck wrapped in oilskins to motor them out of the
They'd prepared the matchsticks they would draw to determine who
that would be. And they'd radioed a telegram to their Vancouver
base saying "BALLOON RAISED OVER MORUROA LAST NIGHT STOP GREENPEACE
THREE SIXTEEN MILES NORTHEAST STOP SITUATION FRIGHTENING PLEASE
PRAY AND ACT." The next day, the French sent a minesweeper to
"escort" Vega out of the blast zone, and when McTaggart and the
crew refused, a high-seas game of manoeuvres ensued which ended
with the ramming of Vega and the detention of McTaggart and his
crew. The weapon was detonated on June 26th.
But the voyage of the Vega drew worldwide attention to nuclear
weapons testing and renewed pressure on the French to abandon the
programme from many quarters.
was relentless. On his return to Moruroa in 1973, he so infuriated
the French military that he and his crew were beaten to the point
that McTaggart lost vision in one of his eyes for several
With the entire Pacific united in outrage and opposition, the
French government at last relented - partially - and moved its
weapons testing programme underground.
You can't sink a rainbow
forward to July, 1985. The Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior
was in Auckland, New Zealand, having just completed a journey in
the Pacific where it moved a whole population from their home,
radioactive since the US tests at Bikini atoll in the 1950's.
Greenpeace was again preparing a voyage into Moruroa to protest the
continued French nuclear testing programme there as part of an
expanded campaign against underground weapons testing by the US,
UK, and the Soviet Union.
The Mitterrand government, exasperated, sent in scuba divers who
planted two limpet mines on the hull of the Warrior. The subsequent
blasts sank the Warrior, and took the life of a young photographer,
The French effort to stop the Greenpeace protests backfired, as
a worldwide outcry and investigation revealed the plot, and
galvanised opposition to the testing programme in the Pacific.
We rebuilt the Rainbow Warrior and, in the early 1990's returned
to Moruroa to continue our protests, getting arrested by the French
1995, just weeks before the 10th anniversary of the bombing, French
President Chirac again announced the resumption of the nuclear
testing programme, galvanising, once again, a truly global protest.
With a huge flotilla, Greenpeace sailed the Rainbow Warrior into
the area, and the boat was arrested, this time held for months.
It was worth the effort: the French nuclear weapons testing
programme finally came to an end in January 1996.
The threat today: the weapon is the enemy
The efforts of McTaggart, the tragedy of the Rainbow Warrior,
and our ongoing campaign against nuclear weapons testing achieved
an uneasy truce. We drove the testing programme out of the
atmosphere, then stopped testing altogether.
But look around the world today.
Take action: Follow the Rainbow
You can help. Sign up for a free membership in Greenpeace's online activist community to receive special "Follow the Rainbow" alerts. We'll let you know how you can help end the threat of nuclear weapons, provide forums where you can talk to others who share this vision, give you a free homepage, and opportunities to help us shape our campaigns and targets. Be a part of a gathering together to prove that in a world threatened by fear and armed to the hilt, the spirit of peace is strong: you can't sink a rainbow. Sign up today.