The Bombing of the Rainbow Warrior 

In 1985, French secret service agents were sent to plant two bombs on our flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, ahead of its journey leading a peaceful anti-nuclear protest.

One crew member, Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed in the bombing, and the story made news across the world.

The bombing was an instance when a government chose to respond to peaceful protest with deadly force. But peaceful protest has prevailed.

Now, we're opening up our archives of photographs, video clips, letters and a declassified secret service file - to give students and other interested parties a chance to review the history of the Rainbow Warrior bombing for themselves.

Rainbow Warrior crew in 1985. Clockwise from top centre, Lloyd Anderson (in headband and glasses), engineer Henk Haazen, deckhand Bunny McDiarmid, captain Peter Willcox, mate Martini Gotje, deckhand Grace O'Sullivan, mate Bene Hoffmann, engineer Davey Edward, cook Nathalie Mestre, engineer Hanne Sorensen, deckhand and doctor Andy Biedermann.
Crew aboard the Rainbow Warrior in April 1985

An evening of celebration

The evening of 10 July saw a lively atmosphere aboard the Rainbow Warrior as the crew and guests celebrated Steve Sawyer's birthday. Margaret Mills, another crew member, had baked a birthday cake decorated with a jelly bean rainbow. People mingled and enjoyed drinks and slices of cake.

Little did they know that one of the guests was a French spy, observing all that was taking place to feed back to his colleagues. The spy departed just after 8pm, and at about 8.15pm, the skippers of all the protest yachts going to Moruroa descended into the hold of the Rainbow Warrior for a planning meeting.

Outside, French combat divers were attaching two bombs to the ship's hull below the water line. The divers had motored across the harbour in an inflatable zodiac dinghy from a secluded launching ramp at Stanley Point, Devonport.

After planting the bombs, the pair escaped by swimming west towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge to be picked up. The pilot of the zodiac motored towards Mechanics Bay to be picked up by a campervan.

Close to midnight, with their guests gone, the Rainbow Warrior’s skipper Peter Willcox and some of the crew went off to bed. The remainder sat around the mess room table, chatting and enjoying the last bottles of beer.


The French agents in a zodiac dinghy motored across from Stanley Point (red) to Marsden Wharf (purple) where the Rainbow Warrior lay. The two divers escaped  by swimming towards Auckland Harbour Bridge while the zodiac pilot motored towards Mechanics Bay (blue) to be picked up by a campervan.

The bombers' strike

Suddenly, a big thud rocked the ship. The lights went out. There was the sharp crack of breaking glass. Then a sudden roar of water. The crew's first thought was that they had been hit by a tugboat.

Martini Gotje went down below to check that Hanne Sorensen was not in her cabin. Fernando Pereira went down to his cabin to retrieve his camera equipment.

Then, there was a second explosion.

Peter Willcox called for everyone to abandon ship. Within minutes the ship was sunk.

Later, Willcox recalled: “I stood there looking at the boat with all of these bubbles coming out. That’s when Davey said ‘Fernando is down there’. I remember arguing with him, saying no, Fernando has gone to town, that's what he always did. ‘No’ he said. ‘Fernando is down there’.”

Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira drowned. He had recently celebrated his 35th birthday. His young children would soon have their lives shattered by the news.

The first bomb made a massive hole two metres by three metres wide into the engine room. The second bomb severely damaged the propeller shaft. There may have been more deaths if everyone had been in bed, as metal from the first explosion had penetrated many of the empty cabins. The stunned Rainbow Warrior crew spent the rest of the night in or on the steps of the Wharf Police Station across the road from Marsden Wharf. Their plans for the Rainbow Warrior to lead the anti-nuclear protest flotilla to Moruroa Atoll were over.