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Refugee tragedy as Banksy rescue ship is stranded


The Louise Michel, a former French navy vessel purchased by the Bristol-born artist, was last night “unable to safely move” after it picked up 219 migrants off the coast of Libya. The Italian coastguard confirmed it had intervened to take the most vulnerable off the vessel. It said: “In view of the danger the situation posed, the coastguards sent a patrol boat from [the island of] Lampedusa… which took on board the 49 people in the most fragile condition.”

The boat was launched last weekend and features a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float. It is currently off the coast of Malta having carried out a number of rescue missions before running into trouble.

Messages posted on the vessel’s Twitter account claimed its calls for help from the international community had been “ignored”.

It tweeted: “Our new friends told us they lost three friends on their journey already. Including the dead body in our one life raft, that makes four lives vanished because of Fortress Europe…And we are still waiting.”

Another added: “The people rescued have experienced extreme trauma, it’s time for them to be brought to a place of safety.”

They also claimed they made a series of calls to various authorities, but either got no answer, or were told there was no assistance available.

The UN Refugee Agency called for hundreds of migrants on board the Louise Michel and two other rescue ships in the Mediterranean to be allowed to disembark at a safe port.

A group of 27, including pregnant women and children have been onboard the commercial vessel Maersk Etienne for three weeks after being picked up off Libya, while 200 are on the Germany charity ship SeaWatch 4. 

Earlier, Banksy, 46, posted images of the 30-metre Louise Michel adding: “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht, to cruise the Med.

“It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’.”

The Louise Michel’s mission statement is “to uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice”.

While the number of refugees and economic migrants trying to reach Europe by sea has diminished since its 2015 peak, the risk of death has doubled following a ramping down in EU maritime operations such as the Italian-led Operation Sophia which ended in March after Italy’s government declared its seas closed to migrants boats.

The EU now focuses on financing Libya’s coastguard and using air patrols to prevent gun smuggling.


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