The environmental organization Greenpeace today said it will take the French government to court over the sabotage of its flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, in the New Zealand port of Auckland.

Greenpeace President David McTaggart announced that Washington attorney Lloyd Cutler would represent the organization. Cutler was counsel to the president during the last year of the Carter administration.

Cutler said in Washington that his firm had agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis because, "It's clear that whether or not you agree with the political position of Greenpeace, a terrorist act was committed against them."

He said the environmental group was entitled to compensation for both the property damage and the death of a photographer aboard the ship.

The announcement of legal moves against the French government coincided with reports in the New Zealand media that traces of explosive similar to that used in the sabotage of the Greenpeace ship were found on a yacht hired by three French secret service agents. New Zealand police have refused to confirm or deny the report.

According to the New Zealand Herald, traces of explosive were found in the yacht Ouvea when it was searched by police in the Australian island Norfolk, five days after the explosion aboard the Rainbow Warrior. The Ouvea, whose four-member crew is known to have included three French agents, was later allowed to leave Norfolk.

If the reports are true, they would amount to the most serious piece of evidence yet uncovered against France's General Directorate for External Security, the French equivalent of the CIA. Earlier this week an official French inquiry cleared the directorate of responsibility for the attack on the vessel while confirming that five French agents were sent to New Zealand on a "reconnaissance mission" at the time of the sinking.