Twenty-nine years ago today, the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior sank into the depths of the Port of Auckland. The crew was preparing for an expedition to Polynesia, where they planned to stop a scheduled nuclear test in the Pacific. But in an offensive that shocked the world, the infamous vessel was bombed by French intelligence before it could set sail.

The two-part attack, which was designed to make the ship impossible to salvage, resulted in the tragic death of crew member Fernando Pereira.

Photographer Fernando Pereira Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Portugal-born Greenpeace photographer had joined the crew to document French nuclear testing, hoping to bring it to the attention of world media.

"The first bomb blew a six-by-six-foot hole through the boat … like if you punched your hand through a paper bag," the ship's captain Peter Wilcox told the BBC. "Fernando went to his cabin – for his cameras most likely – and he couldn’t get out."

It took less than 30 seconds for the second bomb to sink the ship, taking Pereira with it. 

"I think one thing that so surprised all of us, was that here was a first-world superpower …  and a bunch of hippies on an old British trawler had scared them so badly that they were quite happy to murder," Wilcox said.

The Warrior was an R/C fishing trawler bought by Greenpeace in 1978, and was used for environmental campaigns all over the world – many of which attracted hostility, much like her successors Rainbow Warrior II and III nearly 30 years later. 

Greenpeace has announced plans to name a ship after Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's best-known children's authors, in honour of the bombing in Auckland harbour.

"Margaret was a committed supporter for 25 years," Greenpeace New Zealand chair Stephanie Mills said. "As a writer she cast a spell with stories and poems, she weaved words into adventures. We do it with boats. Each time we go out on our boats to challenge an unseen injustice we start to tell the world a new story." 

Top header image: Matteo Della Torre/Flickr