After 30 Years, an Apology for Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

On July 10,  1985, French intelligence agents used explosives to sink the Greenpeace vessel in New Zealand’s Auckland harbor, killing the group’s photographer who was aboard the ship.

Today, one of the French agents has apologized for the first time for his role in the explosion that killed Fernando Pereira.

“Thirty years after the event, now that emotions have subsided and also with the distance I now have from my professional life, I thought it was the right time for me to express both my deepest regret and my apologies,” Jean-Luc Kister said in an interview with Mediapart, a French news website.

Greenpeace activists aboard the Rainbow Warrior were in the area to protest against French nuclear testing in the Moruroa Atoll. Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, has the background to the story:

Kister was working for France’s spy agency, the DGSE, which carried out an unprecedented mission to stop Greenpeace by bombing a peaceful protest ship without warning in the waters of a friendly nation.

He was part of the so-called “third team,” whose mission was to attach two large limpet mines to the hull of the converted trawler, working with fellow frogman Jean Camas.

A third member of the team, Gerard Royal, a brother of France’s current environment minister and former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, picked up the two men in a dinghy after the covert operation.

In his apology, which was also broadcast on New Zealand’s TVNZ, Kister said: “I have the blood of an innocent man on my conscience, and that weighs on me.”

He added: “I wanted to apologize to the members of Greenpeace who were aboard the Rainbow Warrior that night. And then to the People of New Zealand … a friendly nation and ally, [against which] we conducted [an] inappropriate clandestine operation.”

Kister’s name was leaked to the media soon after the bombing. Two other agents who took part in the operation—Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur—were arrested by New Zealand police and charged with murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and handed 10-year prison terms. But just months later, they were freed under pressure from France.

France apologized for the operation in 1987 and paid damages. It stopped nuclear testing in 1996.