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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 July, 2005, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Greenpeace marks bombing anniversary
By Mic Dover
in Auckland, New Zealand

The  Rainbow Warrior, AP
The bombing was carried out by French secret service agents
The 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour will be marked on 10 July.

The bombing, carried out by French secret service agents, was an attempt to sabotage the 1985 Greenpeace campaign against Pacific Island nuclear testing.

The attack resulted in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and the death of crew member Fernando Pereira, a freelance photographer.

The event hurtled Greenpeace into instant global celebrity and ensured that Rainbow Warrior Mark II became an enduring icon of the environmental movement.

Direct action

Andy Booth, former Greenpeace UK campaign director, remembers the day well: "At the time, we were planning a direct action against the Drax power station in Yorkshire, as part of our international campaign to stop acid rain.

"We used to sleep in the office during busy periods and it was in the middle of the night here when the news first broke.

There was a silence followed by the shattering of glass as the water burst in
Pete Willcox, skipper
"Back then, Greenpeace was a small organisation and everyone knew everyone. We were a close group of people who cared deeply about the deteriorating state of the world and everyone wanted to make a difference.

"We were young, believed right was on our side, and felt almost invincible. The sinking and Fernando's death shook the organisation to its core. It brought home the life and death nature of the campaigns we were waging - but for most of us, it only served to strengthen our resolve."

Captain of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 was Pete Willcox, who has job-shared the captaincy for over 24 years.

Today, moored for the weekend in the New Zealand fishing port of Nelson, Greenpeace gets a mixed reception from the locals, many of whom are fishermen dependent on their employers' use of bottom-trawling - which Greenpeace wants to ban.

Pete Willcox, Greenpeace
Pete Willcox was skipper of the Rainbow Warrior on the night it went down
But nothing too scary: "Bared buttocks and paint bombs we can live with," says Mr Willcox.

Asked about the events of 20 years ago, Mr Willcox describes how the noise of the first bomb woke him in his cabin and his immediate thought was a collision at sea - until he remembered they were berthed in Auckland harbour.

"I looked out the porthole, saw the lights on the dock and relaxed. Then the generator stopped, there was a silence followed by the shattering of glass as the water burst in."

As Mr Willcox called for everyone to get up on deck, there was a second explosion - a French mine detonated so close to Pereira's cabin that the photographer was probably knocked unconscious and drowned in the fast-rising water.

The Warrior listed grotesquely, held up on one side by its mooring ropes. Willcox gave the order to abandon ship and a stunned crew stood on the wharf watching the Rainbow Warrior spewing diesel oil and air bubbles.

Crew arrested

The police arrested the Greenpeace crew, believing they must be behind the bombings. But at dawn, as soon as divers inspected the boat's hull, it was clear that mines had been attached externally.

Within days, fingers pointed at France and its desire to stop the planned "Pacific Peace Flotilla".

The Pacific Peace Flotilla was a fleet of protest boats to be led by Rainbow Warrior on a voyage to the Pacific island of Moruroa, to protest against French nuclear weapons tests.

France, who initially denied any involvement, later admitted responsibility.

Bomb damage on the Rainbow Warrior, Getty Images
A hole was blasted in the side of the Warrior
Today, Greenpeace lobbies on many fronts - climate change, the oceans, ancient forests, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals, nuclear weapons, sustainable trade are all the focus of current campaigns.

Mr Willcox says he feels as strongly about these issues now as he did 24 years ago.

On bottom-trawling, he asserts: "Greenpeace is absolutely not anti-fishing - we want as much fish as it's sustainable to catch - we want our grandchildren to eat fish. But it's clear to me that we need to back off from the ocean and give it time to recover. History says fishing companies will fish a species to extinction if you let them."

Mr Willcox says he is proud to be captaining the Warrior as it takes a break from deep sea adventures to attend commemorations in Auckland.

In 1985, Fernando Pereira's body was laid to rest in New Zealand's Matauri Bay. It is there that the Rainbow Warrior will be on 10 July for a ceremony to honour Mr Pereira.

A benefit gig by New Zealand and Australian bands has also been organised for that night. It is expected the events will attract Greenpeace campaigners from all over the world.

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