Rainbow Warrior (1955)

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For other ships of the same name, see Rainbow Warrior.
A drawing of the Rainbow Warrior
A vector drawing of the Rainbow Warrior
Name: Sir William Hardy (1955–1977)
Rainbow Warrior (1978–1985)
Owner: Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1955–1977)
Greenpeace (1978–1985)
Port of registry: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Builder: Hall, Russell & Company, Aberdeen
Launched: 1955
Acquired: 1977
Fate: Sunk on 10 July 1985
General characteristics
Class & type: Trawler
Tonnage: 418 GT
Length: 40 m (131 ft 3 in)
Draught: 4.6 m
Propulsion: 2 engines, 620 m² of sails
Speed: 12 knots (engines)
5–7 knots (sail)[1]

The Rainbow Warrior (sometimes informally called Rainbow Warrior I) was a former UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) trawler later purchased by the environmental organization Greenpeace. The ship was active in supporting a number of Greenpeace protest activities against seal hunting, whaling and nuclear weapons testing during the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was sunk whilst in harbour in New Zealand by operatives of the French intelligence service (DGSE) on 10 July 1985, killing one of the activists.

Early career[edit]

The Rainbow Warrior was built in 1955, in Aberdeen, Scotland, as a trawler named Sir William Hardy, and entered service with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. She served until 1977 when she was put up for sale by the Ministry. She was acquired by Greenpeace at a cost of £40,000 and underwent a four-month refit. She was re-launched on 29 April 1978 as Rainbow Warrior (reportedly named after a book called Warriors of the Rainbow), the first ship to serve with Greenpeace. Further modifications followed, with the replacement of the engines in 1981 and the fitting of sails in a ketch rig in 1985. She served as Greenpeace's primary fundraising ship, traveling the world to collect money for environmental campaigns.

With Greenpeace[edit]

In early 1985, Rainbow Warrior was in the Pacific ocean campaigning against nuclear testing. In May, she transported some 300 Marshall Islanders from Rongelap Atoll, which had been polluted by radioactivity from past American nuclear tests at the Pacific Proving Grounds.[2]

She travelled to New Zealand to lead a flotilla of yachts protesting against French nuclear testing at the Moruroa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. During previous nuclear tests at Moruroa, protest ships had been boarded by French commandos after sailing into the shipping exclusion zone around the atoll. For the 1985 tests, Greenpeace intended to monitor the impact of nuclear tests and place protesters on the island to illegally monitor the blasts. The French Government infiltrated the Canada-based organisation and discovered these plans.

The bombing[edit]

Memorial to the Rainbow Warrior at Matauri Bay, Northland

The Rainbow Warrior, then captained by Peter Willcox, was sabotaged and sunk just before midnight NZST on 10 July 1985, by two explosive devices attached to the hull by operatives of the French intelligence service (DGSE). One of the twelve people on board, photographer Fernando Pereira, returned to the ship after the first explosion to attempt to retrieve his equipment, and was killed when the ship was sunk by the second larger explosion.

A murder enquiry began and a number of the French agents were tracked and arrested. The revelations of French involvement caused a political scandal and the French Minister of Defence Charles Hernu resigned. The captured French agents were imprisoned, but later transferred to French custody. They were confined to the French military base on the Island of Hao for a brief period before being released. After facing international pressure, France agreed to pay compensation to Greenpeace, and later admissions from the former head of the DGSE revealed that three teams had carried out the bombings. In addition to those successfully prosecuted, a two-man team had carried out the actual bombing, but their identities have never been officially confirmed.[3] On 22 September 1985, the French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius 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."[4]

Following the sinking, Greenpeace and the French Republic entered into an agreement to submit Greenpeace's claims against France to international arbitration. The arbitral tribunal, seated in Geneva, Switzerland, was composed of three members (Professor Claude Reymond, Sir Owen Woodhouse and Professor Francois Terre) and rendered an award in 1987 in favor of Greenpeace, ordering France to pay it some $8.1 million. David McTaggart, Greenpeace's chairman, described the award as "a great victory for those who support the right of peaceful protest and abhor the use of violence."[5] Greenpeace was represented by Lloyd Cutler and Gary Born of Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.[5]

The wreck of the Rainbow Warrior was refloated on 21 August 1985 and moved to a naval harbour for forensic examination. Although the hull had been recovered, the damage was too extensive for economic repair and the vessel was scuttled in Matauri Bay in the Cavalli Islands, New Zealand, on 12 December 1987, to serve as a dive wreck and artificial reef to promote marine life.[6] The hull is now covered with a large colony of vari-coloured sea anemones.[7] The masts were salvaged and now stand outside the Dargaville Museum. A second ship, named Rainbow Warrior after the first vessel, was acquired in 1989.


A number of books have been published about the incident, including Eyes of Fire: The Last Voyage of the Rainbow Warrior, produced the year after the sinking and written by shipboard author David Robie.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Several fictionalised films have been made about the ship, including The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy[9] (1989), The Rainbow Warrior (1992), and two French films Opération Rainbow Warrior[10] and Le Rainbow Warrior[11] (both 2006). The Steven Seagal-directed On Deadly Ground, an action film inspired by Greenpeace's activities, had the working title "Rainbow Warrior".

In addition, a number of musicians and bands have referenced the original Rainbow Warrior and the sinking, including the Danish/American band White Lion and their song Little Fighter, Belgian band Cobalt 60, the New Zealand band The Bats ("Green" on Silverbeet), the Irish folk-rock singer Luka Bloom, the Faroese metal band Týr, and the Argentinian metal band Rata Blanca. Geffen Records released a double album, Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors,[12] in 1989 and included songs from artists such as U2, INXS, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and White Lion. German punk band Die Toten Hosen also referenced the sinking in their song "Walkampf", although not by name.

A Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior benefit concert was held on 5 April 1986 at Mt. Smart Stadium, Auckland, including Herbs, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Topp Twins, Dave Dobbyn and a Split Enz reunion.[13][14]


  1. ^ http://www.greenpeace.org/international/about/ships/the-rainbow-warrior
  2. ^ The evacuation of Rongelap (from the Greenpeace website. Accessed 12 July 2010.)
  3. ^ Field, Catherine (30 June 2005). "'Third team' in Rainbow Warrior plot". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Evening Mail – Monday 23 September 1985
  5. ^ a b Shabecoff, Philip (3 October 1987). "France Must Pay Greenpeace $8 Million in Sinking of Ship". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ "Wreck to reef-the transfiguration of the Rainbow Warrior". New Zealand Geographic (023). Jul–Sep 1994. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Bombing of the Rainbow Warrior
  8. ^ South Pacific Books
  9. ^ The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Opération Rainbow Warrior at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ Le Rainbow Warrior at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors at Discogs (list of releases)
  13. ^ "Rainbow Warrior music festival". NZHistory. History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  14. ^ "Rainbow Warrior concert 1986". Frenz Forum. 14 July 2006. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°58′29″S 173°56′06″E / 34.9748°S 173.9349°E / -34.9748; 173.9349