By Peter de Graaf
"One of my fondest memories was when I helped my dad paint a rainbow (on the Greenpeace ship Sirius)- I painted the red stripe, my brother Paul the green one," the young Dutch woman said.
And then, her voice trembling, she was once again the eight-year-old girl who lost her father in New Zealand's first, and so far only, act of state-sponsored terrorism. "We knew you were fighting for a good cause ... but we love and miss you every day of our lives," she said.
Yesterday Marelle Pereira, 28 - whose photographer father Fernando died when French agents bombed the Rainbow Warrior - was in Northland to help mark the 20th anniversary of the attack. She was joined aboard the new Greenpeace flagship by the original crew of the Rainbow Warrior, Matauri Bay kaumatua, police officers whose work led to the arrest of two French agents, and a senator from Rongelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Warrior's last mission, six weeks before the bombing, was the evacuation of more than 300 people from Rongelap, contaminated by United States nuclear tests.
After a powhiri and tributes to the slain Greenpeace photographer - with Te Tai Tokerau MP Dover Samuels whispering a translation into Ms Pereira's ear - the Rainbow Warrior II slipped out of Whangaroa Harbour before dawn yesterday, reaching the entrance as the sun broke through.
By 9am the converted fishing trawler was anchored amid the stunning Cavalli Islands, and surrounded by a flotilla of kayaks, motorboats and yachts.
The Rev. Nuku Stewart, from nearby Matauri Bay, blessed a marble plaque while Ms Pereira made her moving speech. The plaque, featuring a dove and olive branch, was then lowered into the sea and fixed to the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior 22m below, where it had been scuttled in 1987. Mr Samuels was one of three divers who carried the plaque below. "We'd been there two minutes when a big school of trevally came circling around - it was beautiful," he said.
Dutchman Martini Gotje, one of the crew on board when the bombs went off, said he was, if anything, more angry now than 20 years ago. If the blasts had come a few hours earlier, when nearly 50 people were aboard, the result would have been "complete disaster".
Mr Gotje did not believe claims the French did not intend to kill. "If you don't want to kill anyone, a phone call saying, `A bomb is going off in 10 minutes,' is enough."
Captain Peter Wilcox, who also captained the Warrior in 1985, said the silence of the French authorities was "inexcusable". "I think it's high time they apologised to Greenpeace and the family of Fernando," he said.
Another original crew member, US-born Steve Sawyer, said returning to the resting place of the Rainbow Warrior brought back fear of 20 years ago. "It became clear that it was absolutely deadly serious - that governments were willing to kill us for what we believed in," he said. But the bombing backfired for the French as it pushed the environmental debate, and nuclear testing in the Pacific, into the spotlight.
Also on board yesterday was retired detective Allan Galbraith, who headed one of the biggest investigations New Zealand police have known. He said the secret agents "left a trail of evidence that was not too difficult to follow", underestimating the police response and the attention their actions would arouse - as well as making a string of basic mistakes.
"But the two agents who were caught didn't serve nearly as much time in jail as the sentence suggested they should, and France outmuscled us on the international stage. So I don't think you can say justice was done at all," Mr Galbraith said.
Twenty years after the attack, Greenpeace is a stronger organisation with a bigger flagship - paid for with French compensation - and New Zealand's relationship with France has returned to normality. But, in the words of Rev. Nuku Stewart, "We must never forget that first and foremost the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior was a tragedy for the people close to Fernando Pereira". Like the little girl who had to grow up without a father.
By Peter de Graaf