Rainbow Warrior Terrorist attack turned into world class dive site

The rainbow warrior

Originally name Sir William Hardy, The Rainbow Warrior was a ship which started her life working for The Ministry of Agriculture, fisheries and food in the UK.  In 1977 she was purchased by Green Peace UK and re birthed as The Rainbow Warrior.  From here she set out on a series of high-profile campaigns against whaling and seal hunting.  She managed to escape captivity in Spain on two occasions, resulting in the resignation of the Admiral of the Spanish Navy.

Rainbow warrior

Terror attack

In 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was down in the Pacific protesting nuclear testing.  During this time the ship based itself in New Zealand with the intention of leading a flotilla of yachts to protest the French nuclear testing at the Moruroa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia.  New Zealand itself was a leader in the anti-nuclear movement.

Then, on 10 July, just before midnight, two explosions ripped through the hull of the Rainbow Warrior, which was moored at Marsden Wharf in Auckland.  A Portuguese crew member, Fernando Pereira, who reentered the boat after the first explosion to retrieve belongings, was killed when the second blast hit.


In the days that followed it was discovered that French Secret Service agents had been sent to prevent the ship leaving for another protest against their nuclear activity.  While the attack was against an organisation rather than New Zealand itself, most New Zealanders did not make this distinction.  This was New Zealands first and only terrorist attack to date.  The fact that it was carried out on New Zealand territory by a country who were supposedly a friend caused serious outrage and greatly deteriorated the relationship between New Zealand and France.

Two DGSE officers were arrested a couple of weeks after the attack and both charged with murder.  They pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.  The prisoners were sent to French Polynesia to serve their sentences, but were released in 1987 and 1988 which was seen as the final insult.

To cement New Zealands stance, in 1987 Labour passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act. In a largely symbolic response, the United States Congress retaliated with the Broomfield Act, downgrading New Zealand’s status from ally to friend. David Lange, the Prime Minister at the time, stated that if the security alliance was the price New Zealand must pay to remain nuclear-free, ‘it is the price we are prepared to pay’. In 1989, 52% of New Zealanders indicated that they would rather break defense ties than admit nuclear-armed ships. By 1990 even National had signed up to anti-nuclearism.

World class dive site

On the 21 August 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was refloated and moved to a naval harbour for forensic examination.  The Masts were salvaged and now stand outside the Dargaville Museum.  The damage to the hull turned out to be too extensive for repair so on 12 December 1987, the ship was taken to Matauri Bay in the Cavalli Islands, New Zealand and sunk.  This was so it could serve as a dive wreck and an artificial reef to promote marine life.  The warrior that was sunk protecting ocean life, now became a refuge for it.  Divers can now see a hull covered with a large colony of multi-coloured sea anemones.  The wreck is at a depth of 18-26m and is now home to a huge variety of aquatic life.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and most of the time there is excellent visibility.  The Rainbow Warrior is one of the world’s premier wreck dives.




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