A French secret-service frogman who took part in the deadly bomb attack that sank the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand 30 years ago has apologised for the first time, describing the operation as “disproportionate”.
Jean-Luc Kister said he believed now was the right time to apologise to the family of Fernando Pereira, the Portuguese photographer killed in the explosion, as well as to Greenpeace and to the people of New Zealand.
He criticised the “disproportionate” operation, which he called an “unfortunate accident”. He also claimed that other, less drastic ways of stopping the ship from heading to Mururoa Atoll, such as breaking the propeller shaft, were rejected by the government.
“I have the blood of an innocent man on my conscience, and that weighs on me,” said Mr Kister, who attached the mines to the ship. “We are not cold-blooded killers. My conscience led me to apologise and explain myself.”
In what was seen as one of the most notorious acts of state sabotage, French agents on July 10, 1985, attached mines to the Rainbow Warrior when it was docked in Auckland, before a trip to protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific.
The two mines planted by Mr Kister, who was working for France’s spy agency, the DGSE, sank the vessel and killed the Portuguese photographer.
“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,” Mr Kister told investigative website Mediapart.
He insisted that his team, working under the orders of then French defence minister Charles Hernu, had not aimed to kill anyone.
Mr Kister was part of a 12-strong team whose mission was to attach two limpet mines to the hull of the converted trawler, working with fellow frogman Jean Camas.
One of the men on his team was Gerard Royal, the brother of the current French environment minister Segolene Royal, the former partner of President François Hollande. Mr Royal picked up the two frogmen in a dinghy after the covert operation.
“There was a willingness at a high level to say: this (the protests against nuclear testing) has to end once and for all; we need to take radical measures. We were told we had to sink it,” he said. “For us, it was just like using boxing gloves in order to crush a mosquito,” he said in a separate interview with New Zealand’s TVNZ.
France has since formally apologised for the bombing and paid damages, and in 1996 halted the nuclear testing that sparked the Greenpeace protest