Case 12: The Rainbow Warrior (PART II)

AUCKLAND CITY. AUCKLAND. French Defence Minister Charles Hernu caught wind of Greenpeace’s plan to protest upcoming French tests in late 1984. After reportedly ‘exploding with fury’, Hernu ordered the French security service, the General Directorate for External Security or in French, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) to investigate the rumours.

To ensure the security of France, discussions surrounding ‘neutralising’ the Greenpeace mission commenced. Ideas in the form of reports began coming across Charles Hernu’s desk.

In late March 1985, the DGSE was given the green light to go ahead with the plan. They codenamed the mission, “Operation Satanique”.

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Link to video mentioned at the end of the podcast: The Rainbow Warrior Bomber Breaks His Silence 

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Written and edited by Sirius Rust

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The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but we make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.


In late 1984, French Defence Minister Charles Hernu caught wind of Greenpeace’s plan to protest upcoming French nuclear tests. After reportedly ‘exploding with fury’, Hernu ordered the French security service, the General Directorate for External Security or in French, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) to investigate the rumours.

A comprehensive dossier was presented to the French Defence Minister in January 1985. The report had uncovered Greenpeace plans to sail an ‘armada’ of small boats into French territorial waters around Mururoa. Led by their flagship vessel, the Rainbow Warrior.

The report hypothesised that the Rainbow Warrior may be fitted in with the latest devices, equipment for monitoring nuclear testing, some of which could perhaps even sabotage the tests.

To ensure the security of France, discussions surrounding ‘neutralising’ the Greenpeace mission commenced. Ideas in the form of reports began coming across Charles Hernu’s desk.

Hernu came across one he liked, mostly for the price – the report claimed the French secret service DGSE could complete the mission for just under 1 million French Francs

Two army colonels were dispatched to NZ in March 1985 to assess the practicality of the plan. They found, the plan was doable. With that, the mission to sink the Rainbow Warrior on the 10th of July 1985 was set in stone. 

In late March 1985, the DGSE was given the green light to go ahead with the plan. The mission was codenamed, “Operation Satanique”.



On April the 3rd 1985, director of Greenpeace NZ; Elaine Shaw received a letter from a trusted friend, someone she had known for ten years.; Jean-Marie Vidal, “Very soon one of my friends, Frederique Bonlieu, is coming to New Zealand… She’s a young woman who is coming to your country to study geography. She is a scientist, an excellent sailor and shares our beliefs. Help her and share your views and actions with her.”

On 22nd of April 1985, Frederique arrived in Auckland. The next day, Frederique met Elaine at the office. Frederique explained she was a 33 year old geomorphologist from France, she always had a deep interest in environmental issues and would love to help. Frederique suggested she could gather information on South Pacific people and politics and write about her findings for French newspapers.

Elaine commented on Frederique’s patriotic attire; blue jeans, a white sweatshirt and a red scarf, “You look very patriotic”. This red, white and blue combo became Frederique’s signature look during her time in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

As Frederique was low on funds, Elaine organised a place for her to crash in Grey Lynn, the home of Greenpeace NZ National Coordinator Carol Stewart.

The next month Frederique pottered around the Greenpeace office, she helped translate some Greenpeace publications into French, otherwise Frederique kept busy collecting information for the articles she was writing and sending back to the motherland. 

One day, Frederique had an unusual request for her housemate Carol Stewart, “Carol, could you phone around some diving shops to find out the cost of diving equipment for me? I’ve got some friends coming on a tourism trip later in the year and I’ll need the information for them.”

Frederique explained she had difficulty understanding the details on the phone. Carol obliged, she gathered information on the diving kit. Frederique also asked Carol to find out about the cost of relating to the hiring or purchasing of small boats and dinghies.

Then on the 24th of May, Frederique left NZ – she flew to Tahiti to attend the Reef and Mankind Congress, a conference on conservation of ocean reefs. Elaine Shaw never saw Frederique Bonlieu again.

Elaine would hear from Frederique once more. One week after the Rainbow Warrior sank, Frederique sent a letter to Elaine from her current address; an archaeological dig in Pardes Hanna, Israel, “The news about the sunk [sic] of the Rainbow Warrior just reached me… What can I say after such news? I feel so chocked [sic]! If the French Government is behind this work, he [sic] has probably missed his goal because I see two French newspapers and never the popularity of Greenpeace has been so important or so well defended… Why such a monstrosity!? Could you say to everybody in Auckland that I am with you, with all of my heart. Love Frederique.”

In reality, Frederique Bonlieu was French Lieutenant Christine Cabon from the French secret service DGSE. Her mission was to ‘infiltrate’ Greenpeace offices and collect as much information about the upcoming ‘Pacific Peace Voyage’ as possible.

Christine completed reconnaissance into the cost of diving equipment and the renting of vehicles. She took a ‘sightseeing’ tour North of Auckland and along the Coromandel coast, looking for possible landing spots for the upcoming mission.

Christine also uncovered possible plans to pick up Tahitian anti-nuclear campaigners from the atolls near Mururoa to join the protest. The plan included taking doctors to the atolls to assess the health concerns of the islanders. The Rainbow Warrior would then link up with a small flotilla of Tahitian protest boats and canoes.

In her report back home, Christine interpreted this as an ‘invasion’. All this information was compiled and sent back home to France, before Christine skipped town for Tahiti on May 24th 1985.


26th of May 1985. French DGSE agent, Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge arrived in Noumea; the capital city of New Caledonia – a French territory. Roland’s first job was to find a suitable yacht to get the team to NZ. He discovered a yacht he liked; the Ouvea – a 12m French made yacht, named after a small island in New Caledonia. He confirmed the charter of Ouvea with the owners for 18,000 francs.

13th of June 1985. The day the Rainbow Warrior was leaving Majuro Atoll after relocating the residents of Rongelap. Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge was joined in Noumea by DGSE agents Petty Officer Gerald Andries, Petty Officer Jean Michel Bartelo and Doctor Xavier Maniguet – the first piece of the mission was assembled, ‘Ouvea team’

The Ouvea was loaded with equipment for the mission, including a French made Zodiac (an inflatable boat), an outboard motor for said Zodiac, diving equipment and magnetic mines. The four men departed New Caledonia on the ‘Ouvea’ for NZ.

22nd of June 1985. The Ouvea arrived at Parengarenga Harbour, 36km from Cape Reinga; the northernmost point of Aotearoa. The same day, two French agents flew into Auckland, Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur. Their cover was that they were a couple from Switzerland on their honeymoon – Alain and Sophie Turenge

This twosome made up the second squad involved with Operation Satanic, the ‘support team’. ‘The Turenges’ hired a Toyota Hi-ace campervan from the New with the number plate: LB8945. The ‘couple’ made their way up the North Island toward the ‘Ouvea team’

What transpired next can only be speculated on. A released report into the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by NZ Security Intelligence Service in 2017 redacted the specifics of the activities of the Ouvea team. Although, it is assumed the support team linked up with the Ouvea team and transferred the incriminating equipment into the campervan to be transported back to Auckland. Once the equipment pertaining to the mission was removed from the Ouvea. The vessel with its crew started to make its way down the east coast of the North Island.

23rd of June 1985. Operations Commander Lieutenant Colonel Louis Dillais arrived in Auckland. He checked in to a 7th floor room at the Hyatt Hotel – with an delightful view of the harbour.

28th of June 1985. The Ouvea harboured in Whangarei 160km north of Auckland. The crew had some time to kill, so they hit the town – the Ouvea team spent the next days eating, drinking, and seducing women.

7th of July 1985. Operations Commander Lieutenant Colonel Louis Dillais looked down  from his 7th room hotel room on to Quay Street below him; he watched as the Rainbow Warrior harboured in Marsden Wharf. The target had arrived.

The same day the final four DGSE agents arrived in NZ; Military divers, Jean Cammas and Jean Luc Kister – posing as physical trainers for a girls school; the other two were Gerard Royal was the man who is believed to have piloted the zodiac and finally Mission Coordinator Francois Verlet. The final piece of ‘Operation Satanique’ had reached NZ shores, the ‘attack team’.

9th of July 1985. The support team, still maintaining the charade of being ‘tiki touring’ honeymooners in their Toyota campervan, transferred the explosives, diving equipment and the zodiac to the attack team at Hinemoa Motel in Parakai; 50km north of Auckland. 

The same day, the Ouvea with its crew departed Whangarei for Norfolk Island, a tiny island of 2,000 in Australian territory – 1,000km northwest of NZ.

10 JULY 1985

The evening of the 10th of July 1985. Mission Coordinator Francois Verlet was seen mingling with the crew and guests on the Rainbow Warrior as the ship celebrated Steve Sawyer’s birthday. When Francois left, he gave Steve his well wishes, “Happy Birthday! I hope you make it to Mururoa.”

Sometime after 8pm. Witnesses recall seeing three men at Stanley Point, Devonport lowering a zodiac into the water. They disembarked Stanley Point and disappeared into the darkness. 

8.30pm. The attack team put on the diving equipment and entered the frigid ocean water. The zodiac pilot towed the two divers within 500m of their target – the Rainbow Warrior.

From below, the two divers approached the unsuspecting Rainbow Warrior crew; an unsuspecting Fernando Pereira. One mine was attached to the outside of the hull of the engine room; on the starboard side – the other, smaller mine was placed towards the rear of the ship, near to the propeller shaft. The divers swam towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge to make their escape.

9.30pm. The man believed to be zodiac pilot Gerard Royal, wearing a red woolen beanie and a wetsuit was seen by locals driving a zodiac near Hobson Bay. He was picked up by Swiss honeymooners ‘The Turenges’ in their Toyota Hi-ace campervan. The number plate was recorded by locals due to a number of thefts recently in the harbour.

11.50pm. The first mine is detonated; two minutes later the second exploded – killing Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira. The Rainbow Warrior was sunk.


On the 12th of June 1985, France denied any involvement in the attack. Swiss tourists ‘The Turenges’ returned to Auckland; they returned the campervan to the Newmans depot in Mt Wellington, Auckland. This was earlier than the original agreement as they had an 11.30am flight to London to catch; there was a family emergency back home they explained to the clerk – ‘The Turenges’ requested the refund for the early return. This created a delay.

The attentive members of the Outboard Boating Club had turned the number plate of the campervan they spotted over to the police a couple of days previously. Detectives had the rental company delay the couple long enough for two officers to show up. Upon arrival the officers took a closer look at the ‘tourists’ passports and recognised them as forgeries. The police released the couple while they checked out their credentials, but with no passport – they had nowhere to go.

The Customs Officer who had cleared the Ouvea to leave Whangarei on the 9th of July, thought in hindsight the crew manning the Ouvea were not the typical deep sea yachties they usually saw. The Customs Officer informed the police of the ‘suspicious’ French vessel.

On the 15th of June, police interviewed the crew of the Ouvea in Norfolk Island, but without any evidence connecting them to the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior; they were released.

The Ouvea never made it back to New Caledonia, the ship was scuttled somewhere in the pacific and the Ouvea crew hitched a ride on a French submarine back to the motherland.

The attack team crossed the Cook Strait to the South Island and kept a low profile reportedly skiing in Queenstown before blowing town on false passports on the 26th of July 1985.

The fate of ‘The Turenges’ would not be as fortuitous, Police knew who they really were; Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur – officers of the French Security Forces. They were both arrested on the 15th of June for possessing a false passport. 

Using their own intelligence services, NZ detectives quickly uncovered French involvement in the act of terror. By this point, New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) was pretty confident this was state sponsored terrorism – backed by NZ ally: France. 

The government stopped referring to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior as ‘an act of terror’ and began referring to it as “a criminal attack in breach of the international law of state responsibility committed on NZ sovereign territory.”

On the 4th of August 1985, captured French conspirators Alian Mafart and Dominique Prieur were officially charged with arson, conspiring to commit arson of the Rainbow Warrior and the murder of Fernando Pereira.


On the 8th of August 1985, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius announced an inquiry into who was responsible for the bombing in NZ on the 10th of July. The French inquiry was completed on the 23rd of August; 15 days later

The inquiry cleared French authorities of any involvement in the bombing. Stating, the French agents were only in NZ to monitor the Rainbow Warriors movements but had no involvement in the bombing. NZ Prime Minister David Lange dismissed the report as “too transparent to be called a whitewash.”

On the 17th of September 1985, French newspaper Le Monde alleged that the French Government was involved in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior; citing anonymous sources the paper broke down the mission in detail; referring to the scandal as a “French Watergate”. 

French Defense Minister Charles Hernu responded to Le Monde’s allegations the next day as just one more piece in “the campaign of rumors and insinuations being waged against French military officials over the attack on the Rainbow Warrior. Everything will be done to find out the truth… [if anyone has disobeyed orders or lied, I will] ask the Government to take appropriate action.” Three days later, Charles Hernu resigned as Defence Minister and the head of DGSE Pierre Lacoste was fired.

On the 23rd of September 1985, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius made an official statement regarding the Rainbow Warrior, the address was broadcast live on television all over the country – and it was heard around the world, “Agents of the DGSE [French secret services] sank this boat. They acted on orders… The truth about this affair is cruel. But it is essential that it be clearly and thoroughly established… The people who merely carried out the act must of course be exempted from blame, as it would be unacceptable to expose members of the military who only obeyed orders and who, in the past, sometimes have carried out very dangerous missions on behalf of our country,”

The NZ government disagreed, they continued to prosecute the captured agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, and on the 4th of November the agents plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and wilful damage; they were both sentenced to 10 years in prison in NZ. Chief Justice Sir Ronald Davison gave an explanation for the lengthy sentence, “People who come to this country and commit terrorist activities cannot expect to have a short holiday at the expense of our Government and return home as heroes“.



In January 1986, NZ exports began facing ‘restrictive measures’, when attempting to get their products into French markets. The French External Trade Minister was applying political pressure; he was heard on a French radio station even contemplating a total ban of NZ butter imports. Things were getting messy; both NZ and French governments decided to take this whole issue to the United Nations (UN) in June of 1986.

On the 6th of July 1986; the UN returned a verdict, “The Prime Minister of France will convey to the Prime Minister of New Zealand a formal and unqualified apology for the attack, contrary to international law, on the Rainbow Warrior by French service agents which took place in Auckland on 10 July 1985. Furthermore, the French Government will pay the sum of US $7 million to the Government of New Zealand as compensation for all the damage which it has suffered. The Government of New Zealand will transfer Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur to the French military authorities. Immediately thereafter, Major Mafart and Captain Prieur will be transferred to a French military facility on the island of Hao for a period of not less than three years.”

France paid the financial reparations promptly and apologised for ‘the harm done to France/NZ relations’. The two agents were moved by the NZ government to Hao Atoll in French Polynesia to serve their time in a French Military prison. 

Dolefully, France would break the agreement when they brought both agents home within two years. The official story was Alain Mafart was brought home after he complained of ‘serious stomach pain’, and Dominique Prieur was recalled home after falling pregnant to her husband. 

The NZ government protested these actions, but their outrage fell on silence. Upon returning to their homeland, the two DGSE agents were honoured, decorated and promoted.


On the 8th of June 1987, the Fourth Labour Government passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, “to establish in New Zealand, a Nuclear Free Zone, to promote and encourage an active and effective contribution by New Zealand to the essential process of disarmament and international arms control”.

With the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, a UN multilateral treaty banning all nuclear explosions in all environments, nuclear testing in the pacific came to an end. 184 countries signed the treaty including NZ and France, France upon announcing an end to their nuclear testing in the pacific on the 29th of January 1996 proclaimed, “The safety of our country and of our children is assured”.

The remaining crew of the Rainbow Warrior joined the Greenpeace ship Vega and continued with their voyage to Mururoa to protest French testing. As the flotilla of ships left for the protest, Wellington newspaper Dominion wrote, “The principal weakness of the idea to destroy the Rainbow Warrior, however cocked-up the execution, though was that the sinking was never likely to divest the protest movement of its courage or its conviction. The contrary was the likelier outcome. So it has proved. Greenpeace enjoys more firepower than ever in the form of public support, and its replenished armada is certain to be resolved to embarrass the French.”

On the 2nd of October 1987, the UN ordered France to pay US$8.1 million in damages to Greenpeace at an international arbitration tribunal. The money went to the replacing of the Rainbow Warrior. In 1989, Greenpeace launched their new vessel, the Rainbow Warrior II. In 2019, the Rainbow Warrior III continues to carry the name, as a reminder of the tragedy that occurred almost 35 years ago

The original Rainbow Warrior was towed and eventually scuttled near Motutapere Island on the Coromandel coast. The site was to serve as an historic dive site and an artificial reef to promote marine life. The masts of the original are displayed outside the Dargaville Museum. The Rainbow Warrior will forever be a part of NZ history.


The French government paid Fernando Pereira’s family an undisclosed sum, along with an apology from the French government addressed to Fernando’s ex-wife, Madam… The investigations ordered by the French Government show that the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French agents. On this occasion, Mr Pereira, the father of your children, Marelle and Paul, unfortunately met with his death. The French Government expresses its deep regrets for the deplorable consequences of an act it condemns.”

At the 25th anniversary of Fernando’s death, Rainbow Warrior Skipper Peter Willcox said, “Fernando did not have to die…We will never forget him. I hope the generations of activists who sail on the new ship will be as determined and as exceptional and as inspired as he was.”

In 2015, the man who led the ‘attack team’, Jean Luc Kister spoke to TVNZ about his feelings on the attack. Jean explained that the orders came from the President at the time, François Mitterrand.

During briefings the team had expressed reluctance to bomb a non-violent organisation like Greenpeace. They were then told by their superiors that Greenpeace had been infiltrated by Soviet Union KGB spies. He went on to explain, no one was ever supposed to die.

And furthermore:

Fig 1. The Rainbow Warrior Bomber Breaks His Silence


We are going to end our coverage on the Rainbow Warrior by allowing Fernando’s Daughter Marelle Pereira the final words. Because, in the words of Reverend Nuku Stewart who attended the 20th anniversary of the death of Fernando so eloquently said, “We must never forget that first and foremost the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was a tragedy for the people close to Fernando Pereira”.

Marelle has become an outspoken critic of the French government, how they treated the people of the Pacifc and how they have never apologized to her for the death of her father. Speaking at the 20th anniversary of her father’s death, Marelle conveyed how much she is still affected, “What I would like to see happen now… Justice for us, justice for the family if they could tell the truth that would be a beginning, and Mitterrand promising justice at the highest level, if that is justice, letting so many agents escape jail, then that is not justice, not in our eyes and I hope not in the world’s eyes. And, it is never too late for justice… One of my fondest memories was when I helped my dad paint a rainbow (on the Greenpeace ship Sirius)- I painted the red stripe, my brother Paul the green one… We knew you were fighting for a good cause … but we love and miss you every day of our lives.


I have linked the whole interview with Jean Luc Kister in the show notes if you are interested in hearing from ‘the horse’s mouth’, so to speak, how the mission went down. It is pretty interesting and fantastic journalism done by TVNZ. 

The poll for next week’s episode was very close, in fact as I write this it is actually a tie between Sophie Elliot and Hayden Poulter. We have decided, these are both stories people are interested in so we are going to do them back to back, but obviously the winner will go first. Thank you to everyone who participated. 

Until next time. Thank you for listening my friends. Peace.

— END OF PART II (2/2)


Internet Articles
Greenpeace, Rainbow Warrior educational resources, (PRIMARY RESOURCE)
Wikipedia, Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior,
Wikipedia, Greenpeace,
Greenpeace, The original Rainbow Warrior,
Wikipedia, Fernando Pereira,
Wikipedia, Manhattan Project,
Te Ara, Story: Rutherford, Ernest,
Wikipedia, Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, FRANCE’S NUCLEAR TESTING PROGRAMME,
Torpedo Bay Navy Museum, (1945-1975) French Nuclear Testing at Mururoa,
New Zealand Police, Operation Wharf – Rainbow Warrior bombing,
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, Rainbow Warrior,
Wikipedia, New Zealand nuclear-free zone,
Wikipedia, New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987,,_Disarmament,_and_Arms_Control_Act_1987

M. Atkin, The Boat and the Bomb, 2005,
Journeyman Pictures, The Rainbow Warrior Bomber Breaks His Silence, 2015,

David Robie, Eyes of Fire, 1986

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