Irish MEP demands ‘full apology’ from French president for Rainbow Warrior sinking

Grace O’Sullivan was deckhand on Greenpeace ship which sank in attack by French secret services in 1985

Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan has called on French president Emmanuel Macron to issue a full apology to crew members and the family of a photographer who died as a result of France’s sinking of the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior.

The Green Party politician was a member of the Rainbow Warrior crew at the time of the July 10th, 1985 attack, but was on shore leave. The vessel was moored in Auckland, New Zealand before a planned protest against French nuclear weapons testing in the Moruroa Atoll.

Unbeknown to those on-board, who were celebrating the birthday of one of the crew, French secret service agents in diving gear had attached two charges of explosives to the hull of the ship. Photographer Fernando Pereira was trapped inside as the boat went down.

Initially the French government, under president Francois Mitterand, denied all knowledge of the operation, but the secret service agents involved were apprehended by New Zealand’s security forces.


Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart were transferred to a French military base where they served less than two years. Other agents involved were not apprehended.

As the evidence mounted, French prime minister Laurent Fabius admitted to the press that agents were responsible for the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior and had acted under direct orders, she noted.

Following the subsequent diplomatic controversy, and an agreement brokered by the United Nations, the French ambassador provided a formal apology to the government of New Zealand for the “moral damage” suffered because of the bombing.

In the letter to Mr Macron, Ms O’Sullivan said “the time has now come for a full apology”. She pointed out that while at least 10 French agents are suspected of involvement in the fatal bombing, only two appeared in a courtroom over the incident.

“No apology was ever offered to Greenpeace, the crew of the Rainbow Warrior or, most importantly, to the family of Fernando Pereira,” she said.

Speaking from Brussels on Friday before the anniversary, Ms O’Sullivan said: “It’s been a long time since France’s terrorist attack on the Rainbow Warrior which took the life of my friend Fernando Pereira, and neither his family nor any of the crew have yet to receive the most basic apology from the French government.

“Even after the bombing, the French continued to harass us. Only a few months after the brazen attack, French commandos seized our boat Vega and kept us detained for the best part of a week in the Pacific before I was deported under armed guard. The whole French operation was a brutal and botched attack on peaceful protesters that ended in assassination.”

New Rainbow Warrior ships were later commissioned by Greenpeace, which continued peaceful campaigns around the world for climate and environmental justice, she said.

The French Embassy in Dublin was asked to comment on the request but declined to respond.

Before returning to Ireland in the 1990s, Ms O’Sullivan campaigned and worked with Greenpeace for 20 years, including 10 years at sea on campaigns in the Mediterranean, as well as the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times