Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat helped by Italian coastguard after becoming stranded in Mediterranean

Louise Michel issued distress call after deck became overcrowded with people

Chiara Giordano
Saturday 29 August 2020 22:22
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The ‘Louise Michel’ with people rescued on board in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday
The ‘Louise Michel’ with people rescued on board in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday

More than 200 people have been evacuated from a Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat in the Mediterranean.

The Italian coastguard took 49 of the “most vulnerable survivors” from the Louise Michel around 12 hours after the ship’s leaders issued an emergency appeal for help.

All the remaining people on board were then transferred to another humanitarian ship, Sea-Watch 4 – a joint project between United4Rescue, Sea-Watch, and Doctors without Borders.

A Twitter account for the Louise Michel said: “It’s not over: We demand a Place of Safety for all survivors, now.”

The boat – a former French navy vessel which features a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float – was left stranded off the coast of Malta on Saturday morning after its deck became overcrowded.

By that stage it was carrying a total of 219 people, including 33 in a life raft deployed by its side and the body of a man who died trying to cross the ocean in a rubber dinghy.

A series of calls for help to various authorities were made over the course of almost four hours on Friday evening, but the calls had either gone unanswered or operators were told there was no assistance available.

In an update on Saturday afternoon, the vessel’s leaders said the Italian coastguard had come to help. Their tweet read: “Update: The Italian coastguard took over 49 of the most vulnerable survivors! That’s great – & leaves us with the majority still waiting. By now, SeaWatch4 arrived on scene & will assist us doing what Europe falters to do, having 201 guests on board themselves for days now...”

Earlier on Saturday, a video was posted to Banksy’s Instagram account showing the vessel at work.

It was accompanied by the words: “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht, to cruise the Med.

“It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’.”

The Banksy-funded ‘Louise Michel’ in the Mediterranean Sea, 29 August 2020 

The footage ended with the words All Black Lives Matter.

The vessel was bought with the proceeds of some of Banksy’s works and is captained by a professional crew with a “flat hierarchy and a vegan diet”.

The Guardian reported that the British street artist first made contact with Pia Klemp, an experienced captain of a number NGO boats, in September 2019 asking to help.

The project aims to help fill a void left by European authorities, who the organisers say are “leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea”.

The Louise Michel’s mission statement is “to uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice”.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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