Dozens rescued from Banksy-funded refugee boat stranded in Mediterranean

29 August 2020, 12:11

The vessel is called Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist
The vessel is called Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist. Picture: LouiseMichel

By Megan White

Dozens of people have been saved from a Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat that got stranded in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian Coastguard has said.

At least 49 of the "most vulnerable survivors" were taken by the coastguard off the Louise Michel vessel around 12 hours after the ship's leaders said they had called various authorities for help.

There had been 219 people on board, including 33 in a life raft deployed by its side and one corpse in a body bag, leaders of the vessel said.

The former French navy boat - launched under its new guise last week, featuring a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float - was off the coast of Malta on Saturday morning.

Those associated with the vessel said it could not safely move because of an overcrowded deck.

One tweet said: "#LouiseMichel is unable to move, she is no longer the master of her manoeuver, due to her overcrowded deck and a liferaft deployed at her side, but above all due to Europe ignoring our emergency calls for immediate assistance. The responsible authorities remain unresponsive."

Another read: "We repeat, #LouiseMichel is unable to safely move and nobody is coming to our aid. The people rescued have experienced extreme trauma, it's time for them to be brought to a #PlaceOfSafety. We need immediate assistance."

A summary of a series of calls for assistance to various authorities was also posted, but they got no answer or were told there was no assistance available, the account said.

The vessel has already carried out a number of rescue missions, according to its Twitter account, and on Friday evening said it had assisted another 130 people, including many women and children.

At that point it said it was "safeguarding 219 people with a crew of 10". An earlier tweet said there was "already one dead person on the boat".

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".