Prime Minister Norman Kirk told the 242 crew of the Otago that their Mururoa mission was an ‘honourable’ one − they were to be ‘silent witness[es] with the power to bring alive the conscience of the world’.
Following France’s refusal to accept an International Court of Justice injunction against its atmospheric nuclear testing, the Labour government decided to station two frigates, HMNZS Canterbury and Otago, in international waters outside the test area. A Cabinet minister would accompany this daring protest. Kirk put all the names into a hat and drew out that of Fraser Colman, the minister of immigration and mines.
The Otago arrived off Mururoa in time to witness the first French test. Colman transferred to HMNZS Canterbury when it arrived to relieve the Otago on 25 July, and he and the crew of the Canterbury watched the second test.
The protests had some success. In 1974 the new French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, decided that future tests would be held underground. But as long as testing continued there, Mururoa would remain a focus of anti-nuclear protest.
Image: HMNZS Otago (Mururoa Vets)
See also: Mururoa 1973, NZ On Screen: