The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior has been blown up in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand.
One of the 11 crew members on board has been killed. He has been named as Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, 33.
Two explosions, 60 seconds apart, ripped through the stern at 2345 local time (1245 BST) and the environmentalists’ boat sank in four minutes.
Captain Peter Willcox said he had no idea what caused the blast, but strongly suspected sabotage since there were no explosives on board and only a small engine was operating at the time.
The ship arrived in Auckland Harbour on Sunday and was due to lead a flotilla of boats to Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific to protest against French nuclear tests there.
Interpol are looking for a Frenchman seen close to the Greenpeace boat late in the evening and they are also tracing a French-registered container ship that had been in the harbour.
The crew – from the US and Europe – watched their boat sink from the dockside. Some of them had been blown into the water by the second explosion after Captain Wilcox had given the order to evacuate.
One crew member was feared missing but she had been on-shore taking a walk.
Greenpeace officials from around the world were due to sleep on board the Rainbow Warrior tomorrow.
New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange has condemned the explosion as “a major criminal act” and employed all government resources to investigate it.
He has agreed to consider loaning Greenpeace a boat to continue with their anti-nuclear action.
The New Zealand Government banned US nuclear warships from its ports in January.
Greenpeace launched the 417 tonne, 40m-long Rainbow Warrior in 1978. It was named after a North American Indian legend but was built as a North Sea fishing trawler in 1955.
Courtesy BBC News
A hole measuring six feet by eight feet (1.82m x 2.43m) was found in the boat and divers recovered remnants of limpet mines unavailable in New Zealand.
A couple were charged with arson and murder and further investigation revealed that both the accused – Major Alain Mafart and Captain Dominique Prieur – were French secret agents.
The French Government tried to deny their involvement and a major cover-up ensued. By September the French defence minister Charles Hernu had resigned and France paid New Zealand $7m compensation.
Five years later the UN criticised French failure to uphold the sentences of their convicted agents
The Rainbow Warrior was raised to be sunk again further offshore as a marine habitat.
A new Rainbow Warrior was launched in 1989. Many of its purpose-designed fittings were paid for with compensation from the French Government.
In 1998 France ratified the international nuclear test ban treaty. By then it had carried out 193 nuclear tests around the Polynesian islands of Mururoa and Fangataufa.