A mysterious yacht painted white and bright pink with a group of activists onboard set sail last week in secrecy.
Now it is situated in the central Meditarranean Sea looking for somewhere to disembark having rescued 89 people attempting the dangerous crossing into Europe, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
The boat, which left the Spanish port of Burriana on Aug. 18, was reportedly financed out-of-the-blue by the UK street artist Banksy. A tell-tale sign of his involvement is the original Banksy artwork, portraying a girl in a life jacket holding a heart-shaped safety buoy, painted on the yacht's side.
The boat is named Louise Michel, after a French feminist anarchist.
While the artist financed the mission, he wasn’t taking part in it — instead the crew are all people with experience of carrying out rescue missions. The same group assisted in two other rescue operations earlier in the month, rescuing a total of 105 people, who are now onboard an NGO vessel called Sea Watch 4.
Louise Michel rescue vessel, a former French patrol boat currently manned by activists and funded by the renowned artist Banksy, is seen in the Central Mediterranean sea, at 50 miles south from Lampedusa, Aug. 28, 2020.
Boats run by NGOs and groups of activists unofficially have often been deployed to safely intercept the small boats and unseaworthy dinghies carrying refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean to make sure everyone reaches land safely. Organisations like Sea Watch and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) Sea regularly run missions.
Recently, however, there have been fewer missions due to COVID-19, the New Humanitarian reports, meaning more dangerous crossings are going unaided.
The route is exceedingly risky. According to Missing Migrants, an organisation tracking the numbers of people leaving north Africa, 514 people have died trying to make the crossing so far in 2020.
After 45 people, including five children, died in one day in the worst shipwreck off the Libyan coast seen this year on Aug. 17, the UN has urged nations to step up search and rescue missions.
In a joint statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) expressed deep concern about recent delays in rescue and disembarkation.
The agencies pointed out the continued absence of “any dedicated, EU-led search and rescue programme,” and urged states to respond swiftly to calls for help in order to prevent more deaths.
“Delays recorded in recent months, and failure to assist, are unacceptable and put lives at avoidable risk,” the agencies said.
A group stands on the deck of the Louise Michel in the Mediterranean sea, Aug. 28, 2020. The group operating the vessel, named after a 19th century French feminist and anarchist, said late Thursday that it rescued 89 from an inflatable boat in distress.
In the case of Banksy and the latest rescue mission, the artist reportedly emailed the veteran rescue mission boat captain Pia Klemp, having read about her work, and proposed the idea, Klemp told the Guardian.
She said the email read: “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” he wrote. “I am an artist from the UK and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy.”
They came up with the plan and began the journey in secrecy, Klemp explained, as they believed the press attention brought about by Banksy’s involvement would mean their vessel would be intercepted by authorities before they had the chance to rescue anyone.
Klemp added that the artist was only involved financially. “Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists," she said.
Claire Faggianelli, an activist who prepared the Louise Michelfor its first mission, told the Guardian in an interview that she saw the project as a wake-up call for Europe.
She said: “We really want to try to awaken the consciousness of Europe and say: ‘Look, we have been yelling at you for years now. There is something that shouldn’t be happening at the very borders of Europe, and you close your eyes to it. Wake up!’"