The Louise Michel set off in secrecy on August 18 from the Spanish seaport of Burriana, near Valencia, and has already completed a number of high-stakes rescue missions.
The British street artist Banksy has financed and painted bright pink a rescue boat to help save the lives of refugees attempting to reach Europe from North Africa, reports The Guardian. The artist is said to have purchased the former French navy vessel—which has now been named Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist—using proceeds from his artwork. The Louise Michel set off in secrecy on August 18 from the Spanish seaport of Burriana, near Valencia, and has already completed a number of high-stakes rescue missions. According to the vessel's Twitter account, the latest rescue operation was conducted last weekend when she rescued over 200 people.
"It might seem incredible there is need for a homemade emergency vehicle in one of Europe’s busiest waterways, but there is. The migrant crisis means that European states are instructing their Coastguard not to answer distress calls from 'non-Europeans' leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea. To make matters worse authorities prevent other boats from providing assistance, arresting crews, and impounding boats that do," states the new search and rescue mission's website.
The MV Louise Michel just refueled after the first successful rescue operations last week and is now going to a standby position, fully ready to rescue. #DefendSolidarity #LouiseMichel pic.twitter.com/64UGtZoHlC— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 25, 2020
"The Louise Michel is a former French Navy boat we've customized to perform search and rescue. She is as agile as she is pink. Measuring 30 meters in length and capable of over 28 knots, she was bought with proceeds from the sale of Banksy artwork - who then decorated her with a fire extinguisher. She is captained and crewed by a team of rescue professionals drawn from across Europe. She runs on a flat hierarchy and a vegan diet," it states. The Louise Michel's mission is to "uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice," the website explains, adding: "We onboard the Louise Michel believe we are all individuals, nationality should not make a difference to what rights one has and how we treat each other. We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls - but our own."
A night later, @alarm_phone alerted us about a boat in distress. The search took us hours in worsening weather conditions & increasing swell. Luckily the boat was found and our crew could provide first assistance, until in the morning @seawatchcrew could take the people on board. pic.twitter.com/3XfAmkhZeV— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 25, 2020
Banksy's involvement in the rescue mission reportedly goes back to September 2019 when he contacted Pia Klemp, the former captain of several NGO boats that have rescued thousands of people over the years. "Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass," he wrote in an email to her. "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."
Banksy funds refugee rescue boat operating in Mediterranean https://t.co/jLhliMnBqT— The Guardian (@guardian) August 27, 2020
Although she initially thought the email was a joke, Klemp believes the artist chose her due to her political stance. "I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight," she said. Klemp clarified that Banksy's involvement in the operations is limited to providing financial support and not operations. "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.
Yesterday morning, #LouiseMichel responded to a distress call from #Moonbird air reconnaissance plane.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
89 people were rescued and brought on board Louise Michel. The survivors need a Place of Safety now.#SolidarityAndResistance pic.twitter.com/HWde3hYFqT
24h after they were rescued, the 89 survivors are safe onboard the #LouiseMichel.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
After dealing with dehydration, fuel burns and injuries from the torture they suffered in Libya, they have a moment of respite. Together with the crew, they are waiting for a Port of Safety. pic.twitter.com/jJpJaHt3NB
The 10 crew members of the Louise Michel—who have diverse backgrounds—all identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists advocating for radical political change. Prior to the mission last weekend, they had already carried out two other rescue operations involving a total of 105 people. Banksy's team and the rescue activists reportedly chose to keep the boat a secret until it completed its first mission out of fear that media attention could compromise their goals and that European authorities would attempt to thwart their mission if they caught wind of it.
The #LouiseMichel just witnessed an illegal pull back, of people on a black rubber boat, by the EU supported so called Libyan Coast Guard, in position 34°06.1N, 012°47.5E. We strongly condemn this violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention and the maritime law.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 26, 2020
The #LouiseMichel exists because current European policy is to deliberately ignore distress calls and let people drown. States are relying on civilians to prevent mass loss of life in the Med.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
Now we rely on them to give the survivors a Place of Safety - and we need it now!
The Louise Michel heavily criticized European authorities online for supposedly refusing to assist with her latest operation after she issued distress calls Saturday and requested permission to allow her passengers to come to port. The vessel had set out Thursday to assist more than 80 people marooned on a rubber dinghy when she encountered a ship traveling from North Africa to Europe with 130 people aboard, the mission said on Twitter. The Louise Michel was "unable to move, she is no longer the master of her maneuver, due to her overcrowded deck and a life raft deployed at her side, but above all due to Europe ignoring our emergency calls for immediate assistance. The responsible authorities remain unresponsive," she tweeted Saturday.
‼️ There is already one dead person on the boat. The others have fuel burns, they have been at sea for days and now they are being left alone in an #EU (!) Search and Rescue Zone. Don't let it become a body count. Do your job. Rescue them.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
After almost 6 hours of non-assistance by the #EU authorities, #LouiseMichel had to take as many people on board as possible to keep the situation stable. A crew of 10 is now on board a 30m ship with 219 survivors. 33 are still on a liferaft + 1 deceased person in a body bag.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
#LouiseMichel log of calls to authorities yesterday evening:— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
19:40 - Mayday Relay sent
19:43 - Acknowledged by LMP radio
20:03 - call@Rescue Coordination Center Malta : No duty officer available
20:05 - LMP radio call fwd to Rome: No answer
20:34 - Call with MRCC Bremen : No answer— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
20:38 - Call RCC Malta : No duty officer available
21:25 - Call to Malta RCC : No duty officer available
22:58 - Called RCC Malta : No answer
23:20 - RCC Malta calling us: they cannot send asset, they are all busy with other cases
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.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
Hours after its distress call went out, the group reported that the Italian coast guard had taken 49 passengers and one body and that the Sea Watch 4, a vessel run by a German nongovernmental organization, arrived and took on the rest of the passengers later. The 353 people on board the Sea Watch 4 were finally given the news they have a place of safety in Palermo this week after first being transferred to a ship for quarantine.
The crew managed to keep #LouiseMichel stable for almost 12h now. Our new friends told us they lost 3 friends on their journey already. Including the dead body in our one life raft, that makes 4 lives vanished because of Fortress Europe... And we are still waiting. pic.twitter.com/Te2PKCv2Gn— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
The Italian Coastguard have evacuated 49 of our most vulnerable guests. They have also taken the body of the deceased person who had passed away before the crew reached the stricken rubber boat yesterday. May he rest in peace.— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
#LouiseMichel just transferred all remaining guests onto #SeaWatch4, who now have about 350 people on board. It's not over: We demand a Place of Safety for all survivors, now. pic.twitter.com/KjUEG6yp4A— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 29, 2020
~350 people rescued from the sea in less than one week. They are waiting onboard #SeaWatch4 to be assigned a Safe Place. #LouiseMichel no longer has guests onboard, but the struggle of the survivors is not over. #Europe! #SOLAS obliges you to rescue at sea. Open your ports now! https://t.co/uMBV5v3OA4— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 30, 2020
Finally! That’s good news. We want to thank the civil fleet, without whom these survivors would have been left adrift by the authorities. The oil tanker #Etienne has now been adrift for 27 days. What about them, #EU? #AllBlackLivesMatter https://t.co/cB7nRwumMa— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) September 1, 2020