Death of a Rainbow Warrior

Background - 9 July, 2010
At ten to midnight on July 10 1985, Fernando Pereira was murdered.

Fernando Pereira, freelance photographer for Greenpeace killed in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

A father of two young children and freelance photographer for Greenpeace, he had just turned 35.

Fernando was below deck aboard the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour when two bombs, attached by agents of the French secret service, ripped apart the hull.

He was knocked unconscious by the second blast and drowned.

"I'll be home soon"

His daughter Marelle, remembers waving her father farewell at the airport three months earlier. Eight years old at the time, she recalls him saying "just take care of your mom, I'll do my trip and I'll be home soon. Never realising that would be the last time I would see him."  She thinks of him "disappearing into the big entrance doors," and recalls taking a walk in the forest "and seeing the planes that flew over and me and my brother waving to every plane because that could be the one my dad was in."

Fernando had joined the Warrior  in Hawaii, having signed on for a 6 months tour that  was supposed to take him from the Marshall Islands, in the North Pacific, to Moruroa, in the South Pacific. It was a  journey to unmask the US and the French for what they really were: nuclear superpowers with a blatant disregard for the health and environment of Pacific islands, rushing headlong into  designing and test new nuclear weapons.

In 1985 the residents of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands asked Greenpeace to help them relocate to a new home. Their island had been contaminated by radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.

Rainbow Warrior Removals Inc

The laborious relocation was complete and May 10 was the ship's first day off for some time. It was also Fernando's birthday and the crew had printed him a special T-shirt, on the front it boasted "Rainbow Warrior Removals Inc" while the back bore the signatures of all onboard. A proud memento of a special trip.

Marelle Pereira holds a picture of her father, Fernando, killed in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior when she was eight years old.

Born in Chaves, a small Portuguese town about 500 km north of Lisbon, he had fled his native country to avoid joining the military and having to fight in the then-dictator Salazar's war in Angola. After transiting through Spain, where the Franco government was less than amenable to political refugees, he hitched and walked all the way to the Netherlands. There  he found what he was looking for and embarked on a career as a photographer. He also married a Dutch women, became a Dutch citizen and had two children: Marelle and Paul.

Memories of my father

When asked about her memories of Fernando Marelle's  face lights up, "I remember me and my brother walking in the forest, climbing trees, in Holland we have snow and ice in winter. And the place where we lived at the time, behind our house, we had a little river and that would freeze over. And he would take us ice skating, being Portuguese and all, but he could skate."

"I remember him dressing us and taking us to school. He had a car, an Alpha Romeo. I'll never forget that. That is one of my memories of my father. Him being sweet and polite to us, him taking time to have dinner, doing nice things in the weekend but also being away and working."

"As an 8-year-old girl, I remember that my dad was a member of Greenpeace and he was fighting for a good cause; that they were fighting and protesting for the seals to stay alive. I remember very well that Greenpeace had actions and protesting on Antarctica and painting the fur on the seals so I knew in a large way what my dad was doing and making pictures."

Shattering news from the other side of the world

But Marelle's memories have a dark side: memories of an innocent childhood shattered by news from the other side of the world.

Fernando Pereira on the deck of the Rainbow Warrior.

"During the summer we went to camp, we were playing a game with a ball with my friends, then one of our teachers came up to me and asked if I could join her because she had something to tell me. My mom was there and I thought that was pretty strange. I didn't know what to think of that, so I walked with her to where my mother was sitting with an uncle of mine, but walking over there I got a strange feeling, I don't know how to explain that, but I knew something had to be wrong with my dad. It had to be; otherwise my mom would have come over there and talked to me. By the time that I got to my mom she was in tears."

"The moment that she said he was missing, all of the pieces fell together and I cried together with my mom. We packed our bags that afternoon and she took me home. We waited for the news which eventually was of my dad turning up dead."

"No-one was supposed to die"

The French  secret agents of the DGSE were under orders from Paris to 'neutralise' the Rainbow Warrior and prevent Greenpeace from leading any more protest voyages to Moruroa to interfere with France's nuclear testing programme. Fernando was not supposed to die that night. No one was supposed to die, according to Captain Dominique Prieur, one of the two agents who were captured by the New Zealand Police immediately after the attack. In her book about the bombing she wrote: "It would have been much easier to bomb the Rainbow Warrior while she was out at sea. But from the start we had one unbreakable rule: no-one should be killed!"

Captain Dominique Prieur, alias "Sophie Turenge" one of two French agents convicted and sentenced for the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

No matter that Prieur, after being tried, along fellow DGSE agent major Mafart, and found guilty of manslaughter and arson would lament: "We were terrified and appalled… We hadn't come here to kill anyone, least of all one of these inoffensive environmental activists. For me, the death of a man was very hard to take."

"If she did not agree with the mission she could have said no and not participated in it. Just like my father who fled Portugal so he did not have to fight in Angola. My dad did not agree with the war, he stood for himself and decided not to participate," says Marelle with visible anger.

 "Prieur could have said to the DGSE no, I'm not going to participate, people could get hurt."

 "I still do not understand how they could have proceeded, if they didn't agree with the action. My anger towards France and the agents is still understandable for me and my family. How can you bomb a boat in another country in peace time?"

"They got back to France and were treated like heroes."

After repeated denials of any involvement in the bombing despite mounting and compelling evidence to the contrary, President Mitterrand's government eventually accepted responsibility, even promising 'justice at the highest level.' However, as Marelle observes twenty years later, "A lot of the secret agents got away with it. They only prosecuted Dominique [Prieur] and Alain [Mafart], who got sentenced to a little island, they were supposed to be there for a decade but they were only there for 3 years. Then they got back to France and were treated like heroes. They received medals, even. That for my family was unbelievable, incomprehensible; you are rewarded for killing people, for killing a person who was just doing his job."

Every day, every year, you find a bit more closure

"What I'd like to see happen now …. Justice for us, justice for the family if they could only could tell the truth that would be a beginning, and Mitterrand promising justice on the highest level, if that is justice, letting so many French agents escape jail, then that is not justice, not in our eyes, not in my family's eyes and I hope not in the world's eyes. And, it is never too late for justice."

"My family and I pretty much accepted what happened in '85 but that does not mean we are going to forgive and forget. Every day, every year, you find a bit more closure, you are able to live with the past a little better but that does not mean that you do not think of your dad on a daily basis. Or weep over him some days and remember the happy thoughts you had about your dad, my dad, my brother's dad."