July 10

This Day in History

General Interest

Jul 10, 1985:

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

In Auckland harbor in New Zealand, Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior sinks after French agents in diving gear plant a bomb on the hull of the vessel. One person, Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed. The Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of international conservation group Greenpeace, had been preparing for a protest voyage to a French nuclear test site in the South Pacific.

Two days after the incident, French authorities denied responsibility in the bombing and continued to do so even after New Zealand police arrested two French secret service agents in Auckland. Under pressure from New Zealand authorities, the French government formed an inquiry to investigate the incident and after several weeks concluded that the French agents were merely spying on Greenpeace. Later in the year, however, a British newspaper uncovered evidence of French President Francois Mitterrand's authorization of the bombing plan, leading to several top-level resignations in Mitterrand's cabinet and an admission by French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that the agents had sunk the vessel under orders.

In Auckland, the two agents pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of manslaughter and willful damage and were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following negotiations with the French government, New Zealand released them a year later. In 1992, President Mitterrand ordered a halt to French nuclear testing, but in 1995 it was resumed, and Greenpeace sent The Rainbow Warrior II to French Polynesia to protest and disrupt the tests.

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