Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat’s calls for help ‘being ignored’

Aine Fox, PA
·3-min read

A Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea and emergency calls for immediate help have been ignored, ship leaders have said.

There are more than 200 people on board the Louise Michel and one dead body, according to tweets posted from the vessel’s account.

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 cannot 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”.

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 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”.