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Operation Satanic

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Operation Satanic

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, codenamed Opération Satanique,[1] was an 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. The French government wanted to prevent the ship from interfering with a planned nuclear test in Moruroa.

Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the sinking ship. Two French agents were arrested by the New Zealand Police on passport fraud and immigration charges. They were charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, willful damage, and murder. As part of a plea bargain, they pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison, of which they served just over two. The resulting scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu.

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 secretly monitored communications from the Rainbow Warrior, collected maps, and investigated underwater equipment, in order to provide information crucial to the sinking.

After the necessary information had been gathered two DGSE divers attached two limpet mines to the Rainbow Warrior berthed at Marsden Wharf and detonated them 10 minutes apart. The first bomb went off 11:38 p.m., creating a large hole about the size of an average car. Agents 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 11:45 p.m., 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.

France implicated

Operation Satanique 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".[2]

After the bombing, the New Zealand Police started one of the country's largest police investigations. Most of the agents on the team escaped New Zealand, but two, Captain Dominique Prieur and Commander Alain Mafart were identified as possible suspects. Posing as a married couple, Sophie and Alain Turenge, were identified with the help of a Neighborhood Watch group, and were arrested. Both were questioned and investigated. While 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 submarine Rubis, 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.[3]

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.[4] Such an action would have crippled the New Zealand economy, which was dependent on agricultural exports to Britain.

In June 1986, in a political deal with Prime Minister of New Zealand David Lange, presided over by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, France agreed to pay NZ$13 million (USD$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.[5]

A commission of enquiry headed by Bernard Tricot 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, 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."[6]


In the wake of the bombing, a flotilla of private New Zealand yachts sailed to Moruroa to protest against the French test.

At that time, French nuclear tests in the Pacific were halted. However, another series of tests was conducted in 1995.[7] In 1987, under international pressure, the French government paid $8.16 million to Greenpeace.

The Rainbow Warrior was refloated for forensic examination. She was deemed irreparable and scuttled at 34°58′29″S 173°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.[8] Her masts had been removed and put on display at the Dargaville Maritime Museum.

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.[9] 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.[10]

In 2005, Le Monde released a 1986 report that said Admiral Pierre Lacoste, 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, while also admitting the death weighed on his conscience and said the aim of the operation had not been to kill.[11] He acknowledged the existence of three teams: the crew of the yacht, reconnaissance and logistics (those successfully prosecuted), plus a two-man team that carried out the bombing and whose identities have never been confirmed.[12]

A 20th anniversary memorial edition of the 1986 book Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior,[13] by New Zealand author David Robie who was on the bombed ship, was published in July 2005. He was interviewed by TVNZ on 8 August 2006 about the Court of Appeal judgement.[14]

Also on that anniversary, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) sought to access a video record made at the preliminary hearing where the two agents pleaded guilty. The footage had remained sealed on the court record since shortly after conclusion of the criminal proceedings. The two agents opposed release of the footage—despite having both written books on the incident—and have unsuccessfully taken the case to the New Zealand Court of Appeal and, subsequently, the Supreme Court of New Zealand.[15] On 7 August 2006, judges Hammond, O'Regan and Arnold dismissed the former French agents' appeal[16] and Television New Zealand broadcast their guilty pleas the same day. However, two days later the judges reversed their ruling, temporarily blocking webcasts[17] and further broadcasts of the footage.[14]

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.[18][19] Other sources identified Royal as merely a Zodiac pilot,[20] and the New Zealand government announced there would be no extradition requests since the case was closed.[21]

Louis-Pierre Dillais is now an executive in the U.S. subsidiary of Belgian arms manufacturer FN Herstal and lives in the U.S. state of Virginia.[3] Ironically the New Zealand government has been buying arms from FN Herstal.[22] Greenpeace are still pursuing the extradition of Dillais for his involvement in the act.[23]

On 14 October 2011, Greenpeace launched a new sailing vessel called Rainbow Warrior III, which is equipped with an auxiliary electric motor.[24]

See also


Further reading

  • 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

External links

  • The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior - impact on New Zealand's international relations.
  • New Zealand police history
  • "French Connections" Transcript of the 1985 investigation by the Australian program Four Corners.
  • 2010 documentary by Journeyman Pictures for TVNZ

Films (all are productions for television):

  • Internet Movie Database (Australia 1989)
  • Internet Movie Database (New Zealand 1992)
  • Internet Movie Database (United Kingdom and Netherlands 2005)
  • Internet Movie Database (France 2006, concentrating on the experience of French journalists)
  • Blowing Up Paradise 2006 BBC Documentary movie by Ben Lewis about French Atomic Testing in Pacific and associated murder of Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace activist by French Secret Service.

Coordinates: 36°50′33″S 174°46′18″E / 36.842405°S 174.771579°E / -36.842405; 174.771579

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