Moments in Time

3 November 1985

Agents Plead Guilty in Rainbow Warrior Trial

Two French secret service agents dramatically changed their pleas on charges relating to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, July 1985. A Greenpeace photographer, Fernando Pereira, died in the attack which sunk the vessel - the flagship of environmental group Greenpace. In the High Court in Auckland, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur pleaded guilty to arson and manslaughter. At an earlier hearing the agents had pleaded not guilty to charges of arson, conspiring to commit arson and murder. New Zealand's Solicitor General Paul Neazor, QC, told the court the Crown was prepared to accept a plea on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Mr Neazor said it could not be proved Mafart and Prieur were personally to blame for placing the explosive devices on the Rainbow Warrior, nor that they intended anyone should be killed or injured. After their amended pleas were accepted, the case against Mafart and Prieur was concluded within 30 minutes.

The bombing occurred just before the Greenpeace team were to set sail to Muroroa Atoll - a French territory in the Pacific Ocean - to protest against French nuclear testing there. Fernando Pereira died after attempting to retrieve photographic equipment from his cabin following an initial blast just before midnight on 10 July. He drowned after becoming trapped when a second device exploded. The force of the explosions from two mines attached to the side of the ship was such that an eight-foot (2.5 metre) hole was opened below the waterline, sinking the Rainbow Warrior.

As the truth came out, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the French Defence Minister Charles Hernu. The two agents pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to ten years in prison. They spent just over two years confined to the French island of Hao before being freed by the French government.

The damage to Rainbow Warrior proved too extensive to repair. Greenpeace bought a new vessel, also named Rainbow Warrior, which continues to engage in environmental protests and scientific excursions.

Fernando Pereira pictured above

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