Banksy-funded boat stranded at sea after picking up migrants

The crew on a rescue boat funded by British street artist Banksy say they cannot move after rescuing more than 200 migrants off Libya’s coast.

They said on Twitter that they were close to declaring “a state of emergency” after the already-crowded ship lent help to a boat with 130 migrants and a dead body onboard.

The crew claim European officials have ignored repeated calls for assistance.

Built to help migrants in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe from North Africa, the 31-metre motor yacht features some of Banksy’s trademark work, including a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.

Banksy funds boat to rescue migrants in Mediterranean
Image: Banksy funded the boat built to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean

The artist reportedly asked former captain of several NGO rescue boats, Pia Klemp, to use his money to fund “a new boat,” which was named Louise Michel after a 19th-century female French anarchist and teacher.

On Friday morning, the crew posted on the boat’s official Twitter page that they had rescued 89 people, including 14 women and four children, and were seeking a place of safety for them to disembark.

That evening, it said it lent assistance to another overcrowded boat, which was filling with water, had a dead body on board and many more suffering fuel burns.

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“Louise Michel just responded to a mayday relay by #Moonbird aircraft for a rubber boat in distress that had no movement & was taking in water,” the tweet read.

“Louise Michel proceeded at full possible speed & handed out life vests to 130 people to secure the situation. Authorities, your turn.”

Due to being at maximum capacity, 33 of the rescued migrants are reportedly still on the barge and due to the weight the 31-metre-long rescue ship cannot move.

The crew said they put emergency calls out to agencies from Germany, Malta and Italy but were ignored.

They wrote on Twitter: “#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”.

“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 crew of 10 European activists are on the ship, which last week left Burriana in Spain and had sailed to an area about 90 miles southeast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

It can carry a maximum of 120 passengers.

On Saturday, the crew posted a video of the overcrowded boat, writing: “These are the survivors you are turning your back on #EU. After escaping untold horror and inhumanity they need a place of safety.”

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A few hours later, Banksy posted a promotional video on his official Instagram page, with the words “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med” overlaid with pictures of Louise Michel and migrants in distress.

“It’s a French Navy Vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’,” the video continued.

The ship’s launch on 18 August was kept secret and news of the mission has only been released following its first rescue.

While it is fairly small, the yacht has a top speed of 27 knots and so is considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels.

On Wednesday, 45 people – including five children – died when the engine on their boat exploded off Libya, in the country’s deadliest shipwreck this year.

Over 7,600 migrants have been discovered at sea and returned to Libya so far this year, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.


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