Operation Satanic: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Operation Satanic: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Just before midnight on July 10, 1985, French foreign intelligence agents detonated two limpet mines attached to the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet, the Rainbow Warrior, moored in the port of Auckland, New Zealand. The ship sank in four minutes. Though the mines had been placed with the intention of sinking the ship but not killing anybody, photographer Fernando Pereira drowned in the sinking ship.

Codenamed "Operation Satanic," this operation was undertaken to prevent Greenpeace from interfering with a nuclear test in French Polynesia. Most of the French agents escaped the country before they could be charged with murder, but two, posing as a married couple, were caught, pled guilty to manslaughter, and were sentenced to ten years.

After the bombing, "a flotilla of private yachts sailed to Muroroa to protest against the French test." The test was cancelled, and there would be no more French tests in the Pacific for ten years.

The incident inspired two French light comedies about the events: Operation Corned-Beef and Vanille Fraise, and the somewhat heavier Rainbow Warrior with Sam Neill and Jon Voight. It’s also alluded to in Grosse Point Blank. The case became important in international law. This was due to the fact that no state of war existed between France and New Zealand, so the captured agents could not be treated as prisoners of war, but they had clearly violated New Zealand law and been convicted and sentenced for doing such — while acting under the authority of the French government. It’s not like anybody wanted a war between France and New Zealand over this, but it sure as heck wasn’t your typical brand of diplomacy. Eventually, the agents were repatriated to France under the condition that they would serve out the remainder of their sentences.

See Greenpeace’s page of specs for the ship, and also their 20th Anniversary video on the incident, with music by Michael Franti and Spearhead.

Information and photo from Wikipedia.


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