Banksy funds Mediterranean refugee rescue boat headed for Spain

British street artist Banksy is funding a ship covered with his own artwork to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean and has so far picked up at least 89 people.

Banksy funds Mediterranean refugee rescue boat headed for Spain
Archive photo: AFP

Named after the 19th-century French anarchist, Louise Michel, the German-flagged boat left the Spanish port of Burriana on August 18th, British newspaper The Guardian reported late Thursday.

Chartered under strict security, the boat on Thursday rescued 89 people including 14 women and two children in the central Mediterranean, the paper said, declining to give the vessel's exact position.

The survivors “need a Place of Safety now”, said the crew on Twitter.

“It is now looking for a safe seaport to disembark the passengers or to transfer them to a European coastguard vessel,” the paper said.

On Friday, gave the Louise Michel's position at about 50 kilometres southeast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and posted Spain as its intended destination.

Painted in bright pink, the vessel features Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.   

The 31-metre (101 feet) motor yacht that was formerly owned by French customs authorities is smaller but considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels, The Guardian said.

It has 10 crew members “made up of European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations” and is captained by German human rights activist Pia Klemp, who has also captained other NGO rescue vessels.

Banksy's involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent Klemp an email.

“Hello Pia, I've read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” Banksy wrote, according to The Guardian.    

“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.”

Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, told the paper she believed she was chosen because of her political stance, The Guardian said.    

 “I don't see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she told the paper.

The crew with diverse backgrounds “all identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists advocating for radical political change,” The Guardian said.

“As it is a feminist project, only female crew members are allowed to speak in the name of the Louise Michel,” it added.   

The vessel's website said it is run “on a flat hierarchy and a vegan diet”. 


A spokesman for Burriana's port confirmed that the Louise Michel docked there on June 23rd and left on August 18th.

“During this time, they have been repairing and preparing the boat but they did it by themselves, they did not use the port services”, he told AFP.   

About Banksy, “if he has been here, he came incognito,” the official said.   

The Louise Michel left Burriana on August 18 “under the strictest secrecy”, The Guardian reported.

Early this month, humanitarian organisations said they would resume migrant rescues in the Mediterranean Sea where none have operated since the Ocean Viking docked in Italy in early July.

Before the Ocean Viking's last mission, rescue operations in the Mediterranean had been suspended for months due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year from north Africa with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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