Banksy funds rescue boat to save refugees in Mediterranean

UK street artist funds search and rescue boat to help save migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Banksy, the anonymous British street artist, has financed a boat to rescue refugees attempting to reach Europe from north Africa, according to The Guardian.

The white and pink motor yacht features Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life jacket holding a safety buoy in the shape of a heart, a take on his celebrated Balloon Girl image.

The boat set sail from Spain on 18 August in secret, out of fears that media coverage would have attracted unwanted attention from authorities, and rescuers agreed to release the news after their first rescue.

This occurred yesterday, 27 August, when the 10-person crew rescued 89 people in distress, including 14 women and four children, in the central Mediterranean.

They are now looking for a safe seaport to disembark the rescued passengers or to transfer them to a European coastguard vessel, reports The Guardian.

Named Louise Michel after a Parisian feminist revolutionary, the yacht is run by a crew of European activists experienced in search and rescue operations with German NGO Sea-Watch, under captain Pia Klemp.

The boat's crew "have diverse backgrounds, but they all identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists advocating for radical political change" - writes The Guardian - "As it is a feminist project, only female crew members are allowed to speak in the name of the Louise Michel."

Pia Klemp

Formerly owned by French customs authorities, the Louise Michel sails under a German flag and is smaller but considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels, with a top speed of 27 knots.

Klemp told The Guardian that she hopes the speed of the Louise Michel will ensure that it "outruns the so-called Libyan coastguard before they get to boats with refugees and migrants and pull them back to the detention camps in Libya."

The story dates back to last September when Banksy contacted Klemp out of the blue, according to The Guardian:

“I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. 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.”

Initially believing it to be a joke, Klemp soon realised the offer was real.

“I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she told The Guardian, clarifying the relationship between Bansky and the mission:

"Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists.”

Photos The Guardian