Text by Ashleigh Kane
The artist’s lifeboat MV Louise Michel ran into issues after rescuing more than 200 people who were attempting to cross from north Africa to Europe
Last week, news broke that anonymous artist Banksy had funded a boat – named the MV Louise Michel, after a French feminist, teacher, and anarchist – that was rescuing people making the perilous journey by sea from north Africa to Europe.
On Saturday (29 August) Banksy released a video on his Instagram which outlined his intentions for funding the boat. “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med,” he wrote. “It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because European authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans.”
The video came in the midst of a tough few days for the MV Louise Michel – which has been spray-painted pink and features a young girl, reminiscent of his famous ‘Balloon Girl’, touching a heart-shaped life raft – as it ran into issues after rescuing more than 350 people. Claiming it was too overloaded to safely move, its crew made several calls for help, but was ignored for almost three days.
On Thursday (27 August), a representative running the MV Louise Michel’s Twitter account reported it had responded to a distress call from Moonbird – an aircraft which monitors migrants’ boats which get into trouble in the central Mediterranean – and picked up 89 migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya. “The suvivors need a Place of Safety now,” the representative tweeted. However, 24 hours later, the survivors were still on board and waiting for a place of safety, with the representative adding they were dealing with “dehydration, fuel burns and injuries from the torture they suffered in Libya”.
On Saturday (28 August), the Louise Michel received a mayday call that a rubber boat was taking in water and it reported that it had responded by handing out lifevests to a 130 people. Six hours later, it added that the boat had received no response from authorities, and that its crew of 10 had taken as many people on board as possible including women, children, and one dead body, bringing its total up to 219 on board, with another 33 survivors on a liferaft secured to the boat.
The following day, Sunday (29 August), the boat’s calls for assistance were still unanswered, and the representative for Louise Michel slammed authorities of ignoring its calls of distress via Twitter. Several hours later, the Italian coastguard evacuated 49 of the most vulnerable people on board, alongside the body of the deceased. Finally, later that evening, the boat’s representative tweeted that all remaining guests had been transferred onto Sea-Watch4 –a ship owned by the German NGO Sea-Watch which saves lives in the Mediterranean – which was awaiting a place of safety to dock. It is now a waiting game to see who will open its dock and allow the suvivors a safe place to offload.
Banksy has no made any further comment about the weekend’s events, and the Louise Michel continues to operate.
More than 500 people have been reported to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year, although the actual figure is likely to be much higher. Last week a further 45 people died when an engine exploded.