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A beret, a bottle of Beaujolais and a baguette

Background - 9 July, 2010
Nothing is ever true, so the saying goes, until it has been officially denied. The French Government terrorist bombing of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior is a classic case.

Rainbow Warrior

Rainbow Warrior, sunk by two underwater mines placed by agents of the French Government in Marsden Wharf, New Zealand.

French Secret Service agents killed Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira in the attack, in an operation that would have made the bungling Inspector Clousseau look slick. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary gathered within days of the attack France continued to deny responsibility for over two months. Here we trace the events that led to the eventual reluctant admission of guilt and the disappearance of those responsible.

July 10, 1985. Dishevelled, and numb with shock, the crew of the Rainbow Warrior stood, staring into the dark waters of Marsden Wharf, the smallest of three commercial piers piercing Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. Before them, lying crippled and half submerged in the water was the Warrior - their home and an international symbol of peace.

Several hours, but what felt like a lifetime, earlier there had been an explosion. Some had been stirred from sleep by a dull, muffled thud, as though something heavy had been dropped on the deck above. Those still awake, and clustered around the small mess room table, were suddenly plunged into darkness.

Rainbow Warrior Crewmembers

Crewmembers of the Rainbow Warrior in happier days before the bombing of their ship. Left to right: photographer Fernando Pereira, campaigner Hans Guyt and mate Martini Gotje.

Everything happened at once. The steady drone of the generator, that formed a constant backdrop to life on board, ceased abruptly, the darkness was marginally lifted by the eerie glow of the emergency lights, the moment of silence was almost instantly replaced with the sharp crack of breaking glass and the sudden ferocious roar of water. Their immediate thought had been that something, possibly a tug, had hit them.

Two minutes later a second explosion: a flash of blue light streaked through the cloudy waters around the ship. Those already on deck scrambled up the ladder or leaped to safety on the wharf. In a matter of minutes they watched as the twin steel masts of the ship tilted towards them.

Their crew mates Hanne Sorensen and Fernando Pereira were both missing.

Three hours earlier, at around 8pm, the Rainbow Warrior had been in party mood and bustling with the business of the ship. Fellow Greenpeacers from Pacific-rim countries had come to Auckland to discuss the upcoming "Pacific Peace Voyage." Among the new arrivals were American Steve Sawyer and Greenpeace New Zealand's directors Elaine Shaw and Carol Stewart. In the three short days that the Warrior had been in Auckland, the crew, together with New Zealand volunteers, had been  patching up the wear and tear the ship had suffered during recent months in the Pacific Islands. They had been evacuating the Rongelapese people to another island, Majeto. Their tiny island of Rongelap, had been severely contaminated with radiation from American nuclear tests on nearby Bikini Atoll and despite repeated requests to be moved no one, until Greenpeace came along, was willing to help. July 10 was Steve Sawyer's birthday and Margaret Mills had baked a cake, boasting a jelly bean rainbow, for the occasion.

Hanne Sorenson

Hanne Sorenson, Rainbow Warrior deckhand, 1985.

There was still business to attend to, though. The 'Greenpeacers' and the skippers of other yachts were preparing to sail together to Moruroa in a 'Peace Flotilla', to oppose French plans for a series of underground nuclear tests. The group agreed their plans. They also agreed that they would inevitably face stiff opposition or perhaps even interference from French navy patrols. None even began to imagine what kind of interference had been sanctioned in Paris and was already being put into action that very night in Auckland.

Soon after 11pm, the meeting broke up. Accompanied by some of the crew, the Warrior's visitors left. Some of those still on board, - including captain Pete Willcox, radio operator Lloyd Anderson, Margaret Mills and engineer Hanne Sorenson - wished their friends good night and went below to their cabins. On a whim that may even have saved her life, Hanne went back above deck and decided to take a brisk walk in the night air. Seven others, including photographer Fernando Pereira, remained chatting around the mess-room table, sharing between them the last two bottles of beer. Checking to see whether the bars would still be open, they noticed the clock read ten to midnight. Then the lights went out…

Who was responsible?

Two divers, who were part of a large French Secret Service team, planted the bombs beneath the Rainbow Warrior. At first the French denied any involvement but, as the evidence mounted, they later admitted to planning the entire campaign. Only two French agents ever served time in prison. Many others simply disappeared.

Christine Cabon (alias Frederique Bonlieu Cabon)

Cabon joined the French army in 1977, and was later transferred to the intelligence gathering and evaluation wing of the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE - French Secret Service). She infiltrated the Greenpeace New Zealand office in April 1985 to uncover plans for the Greenpeace Moruroa trip and gathered directions, maps, and information for the Ouvea crew and the Turenges. She left New Zealand on May 24 1985; at the time of the bombing she was in Israel. The same day the Auckland police asked the Israeli authorities to arrest her, she was warned off by the DGSE and was able to leave Israel before Israeli authorities arrested her. She has since disappeared.

The three Ouvea crew are believed to have smuggled explosives, an inflatable and an outboard motor into New Zealand. It is possible but unlikely that one of them actually placed the bombs.

Petty Officer Bartelo, alias Jean-Michel Berthelot

It is believed that around 8.30pm, 10 July, 1985, Jean-Michel Bartelo put on his scuba gear and slipped beneath the water, heading for the Rainbow Warrior. Two packets of plastic-wrapped explosives were attached to the ship, one by the propeller, the other to the outer wall of the engine room. Many of the crew had left the ship to go for a drink but several remained, relaxing in the mess. Bartelo was a combat frogman. His whereabouts since the bombing are unknown.

Dr Xavier Maniguet

Maniguet was a doctor specializing in treating diving accident victims. He claimed only to have been a passenger on board the Ouvea. He was living in Dieppe, Normandy (France) in 1985. He later wrote a book, The Jaws Of Death (Shark As Predator, Man As Prey), which included reference to his role in the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge, (alias Raymond Velche)

Skipper of the Ouvea, Velche was a combat frogman who joined the French army in 1970 and was later seconded to the DGSE. He was based at the Navy Frogmen Training Centre (CINC) at Aspretto in Corsica, which was closed in 1986.

Petty Officer Gerald Adries (aliases Eric Audrenc, Eric Andreine)

Andries was a combat frogman. He brought the inflatable and the outboard motorused in the bombing from London. Six years after the bombing, he was arrested in Basel, Switzerland, but New Zealand informed Swiss authorities they would not seek his extradition.

Major Alain Mafart (alias Alain Turenge)

A member of the French Secret Service, Mafart supported the sabotage team and was arrested by New Zealand police when returning a rental van. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Later he was deported to Hao in French Polynesia and served three years. He returned to Paris and is now a colonel.

Captain Dominique Prieur (alias Sophie Turenge)

Prieur was a specialist in European peace movements. After her arrest by New Zealand police, she received the same sentence as Mafart. Her husband was allowed to join her in Hao and she became pregnant, returning to Paris in 1988. She is now a commandant.

Colonel Louis Piere Dillais (alias Jean Louis Dormand)

Dillais was the chief of the Rainbow Warrior bombing operation. He reportedly drove the inflatable for the two divers. He is now in charge of military intelligence in France.

Colonel Jean-Claude Lesquer

A colonel in 1985, Lesquer was head of the action unit charged with the bombing. He lost his post over the scandal but was later promoted to brigadier-general after the Gulf War. In February, 1995, he was promoted to major-general.