The sight of Rainbow Warrior 111
arriving in triumph on the Clyde, sails billowing defiantly in a strong westerly wind, was an exhilirating reminder of a dark day on the other side of the world, when an old Aberdeen-built trawler became the focus of a diplomatic crisis, a murder trial, and a very costly lawsuit. Who doesn't believe that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction?
Constructed by Hall Russell of Aberdeen, at a cost of £250,000 for the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the research vessel Sir William Hardy
(gross tonnage 418 tonnes, 30 feet wide, 131 feet long) gained early distinction as the first diesel electric trawler built in the UK. Fittingly, given it was named after a distinguished biologist and food scientist, the Sir William Hardy
spent most of its time in the North Sea, studying 'fish as food'. A crew of 16, augmented by a laboratory and accommodation for four scientists, provided support to various government-funded research institutes operating in the region. For example, famous throughout the world, Torry Research Station was especially concerned with the probems of 'spoilage' and finding ways to keep sea products 'fresh from trawler to plate'.
Sold in 1978 to the environmental campaigners Greenpeace for a reported £40,000, there were claims the new owners had been sold 'a bit of a rust bucket'. They responded by treating the sturdy old vessel to an extensive refit, and giving it a challenging new name: Rainbow Warrior
Launched in its new guise on 29 April 1978, the one-time Aberdeen trawler began making headlines everywhere. Environmental trouble spots were its main ports of call. One such place was a tiny atoll in the South Pacific (part of French Polynesia) named Moruroa. According to one source, between 1966 and 1996, the French Government utilised islands in this vast area to conduct 193 nuclear weapon tests which 'profoundly altered the health, well-being, and environment of the people living in the region'.
During the (South Pacific) winter of 1985, plans were well-advanced for the latest French test, with Moruroa, once again, the designated location. Accompanied by a flotilla of yachts, attracted from around the world, Greenpeace proposed to disrupt proceedings by entering the danger area, forcing France to abandon the test. Berthed against the harbour wall at Marsden Wharf in Auckland, New Zealand, the crew of Rainbow Warrior
waited for word. Shortly before midnight, on the evening of 10 July 1985, two bombs, expertly placed against the vessel's side, killed one man (a Portuguese photographer named Fernando Pereira) and damaged Rainbow Warrior
beyond repair. Murder squad detectives under the command of Glasgow-born Superintendent Alan Galbraith quickly established the unthinkable: the attack on Rainbow Warrior
in New Zealand waters was the work of DGSE, the French foreign intelligence service.
France fiercely denied any involvement in the attack and threatened to block New Zealand trade with the EU if the allegations continued. According to one observer, the only clues missing from the case against France were 'a baguette, a black beret and a bottle of Beaujolais'. On 22 September 1985, as the evidence mounted, the Prime Minister of France, Laurent Fabius, confessed: 'The truth is cruel. Agents of the DGSE, acting on orders, sank this boat'.
Greenpeace eventually received compensation in excess of $8 million, with additional payments, amounting to more than two million francs, going to the dead man's family, wife, children, and parents. Charged originally with murder, Captain Dominique Prieur and Commander Alain Mafart, the only members of the DGSE team to evade arrest, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
To no-one's great surprise, perhaps, 10-year sentences passed on each of them were allowed to reach a farcical conclusion less than two years later. Having spent part of their time in gaol on a South Seas island under French contol, the two agents were released and allowed to return to France, where they continued their careers.
Scuttled off Matauri Bay, close to New Zealand's North Island, on 12 December 1987, the former Scots trawler known as Rainbow Warrior
forms a dive wreck and artificial reef. A memorial, incorporating the vessel's anchor, marks the spot.
Russell Galbraith is a writer and former television executive