1962 – 1976

This was a time when government and public opinion on nuclear testing had changed, and by 1973 the New Zealand navy found itself, most unusually, in a protest role. Fear of nuclear fallout was very real and the voices of the people of the Pacific were loudly and clearly opposed to nuclear testing in the region. The New Zealand government had made formal submissions to the French government throughout the 1960s when France had not joined the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain in signing the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

The treaty prohibited nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in space and under water (though not specifically underground). Therefore, when France announced it would be undertaking further atmospheric tests at Mururoa in 1973, there was major global concern.

In June of that year, HMNZS Lachlan undertook a covert mission to intercept French communications off Rarotonga. Later that month, Prime Minister Norman Kirk sent HMNZS Otago to Mururoa in direct protest of the testing. Not only was this unusual, it was practically unheard of – a naval warship being deployed in a political protest. A flotilla of private protest vessels also made its way to Mururoa.

Twenty-two naval personnel opted not to go on Otago’s deployment to Mururoa for ‘personal reasons’. Those that went kept the company of Immigration Minister Fraser Colman, who was onboard ship, attending the testing in an observation role. Journalists were also on board, and a large TV camera was installed on the ship. This was used to broadcast an eyewitness account of the testing to an international audience. HMNZS Canterbury relieved Otago in late July.

Explore the resources on this website to learn more about what happened during this time period.

Photos & Documents

R Adm Thorne oral history

Norms Mystery Tours flag

Norms Mystery Tours flag

This flag was hand-made by Peter Mitchell. It was flown by HMNZS Canterbury at Mururoa Atoll in July 1973, during French nuclear testing. The flag was also flown briefly as Canterbury sailed both in and out of Auckland on the deployment to Mururoa. ‘Norm’ refers to the prime minister at the time, Norman Kirk. Flag,…

Graphic from T-shirt

New Zealand Special Service Medal – Nuclear Testing

Otago test simulation

Original manuscript signal

International Court of Justice

Capt Urquhart oral history

Moruroa anti-nuclear pamphlet

Fri postcard

Stop French Nuclear Testing

Lt Cdr Wright oral history

Peace fleet at sea

Fraser Colman BBQ

Unofficial flags flying

Weather balloon

Fraser Colman with gas mask


Silent black and white film footage, Otago

Niuklia Fri Pasifik documentary

Hotu Painu documentary

Nuclear Reaction – Otago leaving


Countdown to Bomb Blast audio recording

Fri has been boarded report

HMNZS Otago farewelled

Resumption of Nuclear Testing in the Pacific

Archival audio in ‘Bomb Gone’ from the RNZ collection at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.