10th July 1985, Auckland Harbour

I came from a small working-class town in the woods in Massachusetts where I took the environment for granted. Greenpeace was opening an office in Boston in 1978, and someone showed me a picture of Rainbow Warrior and I thought 'that looks good to me'. After a few years in the office, I was offered the chance to join the boat at Windscale nuclear power station to try and prevent Japanese shipments of radioactive waste reaching the UK.

In 1985 we were in the South Pacific to look at the establishment of missile ranges for Reagan's budding Star Wars programme and to help out the Marshall Islanders who were still suffering terribly from US nuclear testing in the Forties and Fifties. We had had a low-level running conflict with the French government ever since they rammed the chairman David McTaggart's boat and beat him up in 1972 when he infiltrated their nuclear testing site at the Moruroa Atoll.

When we arrived in New Zealand, it was in the midst of declaring itself nuclear free and we had a fabulous welcome. It was my 29th birthday. We had a few meetings during the day, got back to the ship in the evening and had a cake and some music. We finished about 11.30pm, so myself and a few others went to this hotel on the other side of town. We got settled in when I got a phone call saying there had been an explosion on the ship and it had sunk. We screamed back to the dock and the ship was leaning up against the side. Someone said, "They've blown up the boat and they've killed Fernando." This was Fernando Pereira, the photographer.

The chief engineer, Davey Edwards, was awake when he heard an explosion. He opened the engine room door and it was boiling with water. Everybody got off except three who ran below to search the cabins below the waterline. Fernando was the last coming up when the second blast went off, which caused the stern accommodation to totally cave in and trap him. The people who ordinarily slept in the berths immediately above where the bomb went off were off the ship. Shrapnel went right through their berths.

We had no idea what had happened. The media got hold of the story and then people started to arrive with soup and clothes and bucket loads of money, which they'd collected off the streets. The New Zealanders felt that it was an attack on their right not to have nuclear weapons.

Quickly we discovered that this nice young French woman in the New Zealand Greenpeace office was a captain in the DGSE, France's intelligence and covert action bureau. Then a French couple turned in their rental car and were arrested, and the phone number of their Uncle Emile in Paris happened to be a DGSE number. The story began to come together: French divers had attached limpet mines on the outside of the hull after a strategic decision had been made at the highest levels of the French government that they didn't want a Greenpeace ship with the capability to transmit photographs near the Moruroa Atoll. Following claims that President Mitterrand had known of the bombing plan, French defence minister Charles Hernu resigned and Admiral Pierre Lacoste, director of the DGSE, was sacked.

We decided to take France to an international arbitration. It took years of hard work and in September 1987 they awarded us $8.2m. In New Zealand, the US and the UK, the bombing boosted membership, but it forced us to close the office in France. From the domestic French point of view, in the short term the blowing up of the Rainbow Warrior was a success.

Everything suddenly got a lot more serious. It had always been sort of an adventure, fun, but now we knew that governments would kill you for what you believed in. Since the end of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear armageddon, the main focus for me has been global warming. Our global economy based on the current energy policy is unsustainable and it's going to kill us all, if we don't do something about it. Getting politicians to think in those terms and overcoming the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, the largest vested interest in the history of the world, is very difficult, but you know that in ten or fifteen years everybody will come around to agreeing with you.

I've quit Greenpeace three times and always returned within six months. The first time I left, McTaggart called me to say they were sending a ship across to North America and he wanted me to run it, and it was the only way he could have got me back. I took 1996 off to work in a film production company -- I'm interested in the film industry and what a powerful medium film is. We've had a lot of help from friends over the years including Shatner and Nimoy. The fourth Star Trek movie is based on whales, and neither the subject matter nor the timing of its release in 1986 were an accident.

It's frustrating and frenetic work, and you don't get paid much -- we didn't get paid anything in the early years -- but as long as I can work with old colleagues trying to make a difference, this is the best vehicle for me.

© Steve Sawyer 2004

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