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Street artist Banksy bought a former navy vessel to rescue refugees stranded at sea

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.

Street artist Banksy bought a former navy vessel to rescue refugees stranded at sea
Cover Image Source: Twitter/Sea-Watch International

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 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."



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."



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.





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 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.











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.










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