History curator Stephanie Gibson looks back to the 1980s, and an explosive event that shook New Zealand.
Thirty years ago, on 10 July 1985, French government agents attached bombs to the hull of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior and sank it in Auckland Harbour. The French government had feared that the ship would draw attention to its nuclear testing at Moruroa atoll. One crew member was killed in the explosion.
The bombing sparked a diplomatic row between New Zealand and France – nations that were normally friendly allies. Prime Minister David Lange described the bombing as ‘a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism’.
The French had failed to take into account the small, politically active population of New Zealand, and the uniqueness of such an attack. The public was horrified and flooded the police with information. Agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur were arrested, and each was given a 10-year sentence for manslaughter. But within a year they were sent to French Polynesia, and from there they soon returned to France.
The attack galvanised the anti-nuclear movement in New Zealand. Ultimately, the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior strengthened opposition in New Zealand to the military application of nuclear technology in any form.
- See fragments from the Rainbow Warrior’s devastated deck on display at Te Papa, in Slice of Heaven: 20th Century Aotearoa on level 4.
- Read more on this topic on Te Papa’s Collections Online and the Slice of Heaven website