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Banksy’s latest project: A search-and-rescue ship for African migrants adrift at sea

Migrants aboard a rescue vessel sponsored by the artist Banksy in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Louise Michel, a vessel sponsored by the artist Banksy, with rescued migrants on board near Malta in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday.
(Associated Press)

The United Nations refugee agency urged European nations on Saturday to let in hundreds of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by humanitarian boats — including one sponsored by street artist Banksy.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization of Migration said more than 200 rescued refugees and migrants needed to immediately get off the nonprofit search-and-rescue ship MV Louise Michel, which they said was “currently far beyond its safe carrying capacity.”

The bright pink ship was painted by renowned street artist Banksy, who released a video Saturday on Instagram confirming his involvement in the rescue operation.

“Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med,” the artist wrote in captions accompanying the video. “It’s a French Navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans.”

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The subversive artist continued, “All Black Lives Matter.”

The video featured scenes of migrants at sea and clips of the Louise Michel, which is painted bright pink and features a mural depicting a young girl holding onto a heart-shaped safety float.

The ship’s crew has said it is sponsored by Banksy, whose real name is a closely guarded secret. Details of his financial involvement were not available. The crew has in recent days reported picking up several groups of migrants in the central Mediterranean in what appeared to be its maiden rescue voyage.

The plea from UNHCR and IOM also mentioned hundreds of migrants on two other charity ships in urgent need of finding safe harbor. The agencies said 27 migrants who left from Libya, including a pregnant woman and children, have been stranded on the commercial tanker Maersk Etienne “for an unacceptable three-week period” since their rescue Aug. 5.

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An additional 200 rescued people on the SeaWatch4, which has waited for days to be allowed to enter a port, also needed urgent help, the agencies added.

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” the agencies said.

They reiterated concerns about the lack of dedicated European Union-led search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, and the lack of coordination among European nations to support countries like Italy and Malta, which are bearing the brunt of migrants arriving by sea.

In a series of tweets over the last few days, the ship’s crew strongly criticized the EU over its migration policy.

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The tone of the tweets has grown more urgent in the past 24 hours after the crew reported that the number of migrants on board was getting too high, that the ship was essentially stranded and that the crew was seeking a port to disembark the passengers. It reported women and children were among the dozens on board and in an adjacent dinghy, as well as the body of a migrant who had died.

“We need immediate assistance,” the crew tweeted. “We are safeguarding 219 people with a crew of 10. Act #EU now!”

Another humanitarian aid group ship, the Mare Jonio, said Saturday it was leaving the Sicilian port of Augusta to come to the Louise Michel’s aid. The Mare Jonio, which has been active in the Mediterranean for years, said it was moving up its departure by 48 hours to help the Louise Michel out.


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