The Greenpeace ship was torn apart by two bombs planted by French secret agents. A Portuguese crew member, Fernando Pereira, was killed.
The Rainbow Warrior had been involved in protests over French nuclear testing in the Pacific. French Secret Service (DGSE) agents were sent to prevent it leaving for another protest campaign at Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Following the attack, two DGSE officers, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were arrested on 24 July.
Having been charged with murder, both pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The case was a source of considerable embarrassment to the French government. While the attack was on an international organisation and not New Zealand as such, most New Zealanders did not make this distinction. The fact that it was carried out on New Zealand territory by a supposedly friendly nation caused outrage and a serious deterioration in relations between New Zealand and France.