Rainbow Warrior survivors reflect on that fateful night

  • 10/07/2015
Martini Gotje and Margaret Mills (Photo: Miriam Harris)
Martini Gotje and Margaret Mills (Photo: Miriam Harris)

By Miriam Harris

Rainbow Warrior bombing survivors Martini Gotje, 65, and Margaret Mills, 86, both continue to give back to their community on Waiheke Island, where they have both resided for a number of years.

Near midnight on July 10, 1985, two French spies strapped bombs to the bottom of the Rainbow Warrior in the Auckland Harbour, in attempt to sabotage the crew's protests against nuclear testing.

Netherlands-born Mr Gotje was inspired by New Zealand's proactive efforts to remain nuclear-free.

"When the nuclear-free issue became really relevant in New Zealand with the visits of nuclear power, US Navy ships and weapons on board, New Zealand rallied in a massive way to prevent these boats from coming in," he says.

Ms Mills, asked to be relief cook for a month, had only been on board three days when the bombing occurred.

"I heard the captain say, 'Oh Margaret, are you still here? We’ve been bombed!' and I laughed. Well I mean, would you think of being bombed here? No."

She said the bomb didn't affect her in the moment: "We were in New Zealand; it had to be something else."

The captain told her to jump off the boat, "so up we went and just as we were stepping onto the wharf the other [bomb] went off and the ship started tipping, and everybody was running round like headless chickens", she says.

After the bombing she continued to work on Greenpeace ships, and opened up her home for fellow crew members, many of whom have also chosen to reside on the island.

Ms Mills said making new friends from the crew changed her life.

"I made a lot of new friends that were younger than me and who are still my friends today," she says.

Mr Gotje was one of those friends, and first mate on board. He remembers seeing the photographer and only crew member to drown, Fernando Pereira, with his cameras after the first bomb went off.

"I didn't really think about myself when I got off [the ship], it was more about Fernando. He had kids and I was the only other one who had a kid of the whole crew, and you feel for those kids and of course for Fernando himself, [it was] so unnecessary."

Mr Gotje worked Greenpeace's head office as the manager of the organisation's ships, but then moved to Waiheke Island in 1996 and has lived there ever since.

"It's a beautiful place. It took me a while to finally get here. The idea of the ferry twice a day I didn't fancy, so I stayed in Auckland, but I went often to the island in the weekends with a mate and I finally came and lived here in 1996. [It's] one of the better decisions I've made."

He is proud of the Rainbow Warrior, and of all Greenpeace ships.

"I don't say this one is better than the others because for me it's a tool, and in the end you have to work the ship and make it do the things you want it to, and to me they are all dear," Mr Gotje says.

He says climate change is one of the biggest modern environmental challenges, and has some advice for younger activists following in his footsteps.

"If you don't agree, speak up. Educate them, don't be afraid. Even if one person acts it can make changes. Some [issues] are big and some are smaller, but it's possible. You have to believe in yourself and what you think is right."

As well as continuing Greenpeace work from the island, Mr Gotje has volunteered for Waiheke Radio for the last five years with a Sunday night show airing from 7pm to 9pm called The Navigator.

Brent Simpson, one of the trustees of Waiheke Radio, says Mr Gotje is a valuable member of the team.

"He brings a certain level of community mindedness and civic responsibility from his time at Greenpeace and he brought with him a pre-made audience," says Mr Simpson.

Mr Gotje's international connections have proven beneficial to the station's listener numbers.

“He has quite an international following. There are quite a few people from around the world who listen to him because the show streams live,” says Mr Simpson.

Mr Gotje remains proud to live in nuclear-free New Zealand.

"I'm not born in this country but I'm very happy to live in a country which has nuclear-free rule. It hasn't changed, it's still there and it makes New Zealand unique."

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