The M.V. Louise Michel, a rescue boat funded by British artist Banksy to assist refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, issued a distress call on Saturday after taking 130 new passengers on board. The vessel, which was already carrying 89 asylum-seekers to safety, announced it had exceeded its capacity and declared a state of emergency. But its urgent calls for help were repeatedly ignored, according to a series of posts on its Twitter page this weekend.
“#LouiseMichel is unable to move, she is no longer the master of her manoeuver, due to her overcrowded deck and a liferaft deployed at her side, but above all due to Europe ignoring our emergency calls for immediate assistance,” reads one Tweet posted in the early hours of Sunday, August 29. Another said the boat was carrying a body bag containing the corpse of one passenger who had died.
According to a log of calls to authorities, a Mayday relay was sent at 7:40pm on Saturday; 12 hours later, the crew was still waiting for aid. The Italian Coast Guard eventually evacuated 49 passengers considered highly vulnerable, and the German rescue boat Sea-Watch 4 transported around 150 more.
Banksy funded the 102-foot-long, bright pink motor yacht using proceeds from the sale of his artwork. Previously owned by French customs authorities and customized to perform search and rescue, the boat aims to save migrants at sea from capture by the Libyan coastguard, known for forcing refugees into poorly-maintained detention camps in Libya. Its crew is composed of activists and volunteers from the German nonprofit rescue organization Sea-Watch.
In a video explaining the project published on his Instagram two days ago, Banksy says that EU authorities “deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans.'” At the end of the video, the message “All Black Lives Matter” flashes against a backdrop of footage depicting a child in the water attempting to board the boat.
On Saturday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) issued a statement expressing concern about “the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean.” The international agencies called for the “immediate disembarkation” of more than 400 rescued migrants and refugees on board three vessels in the Mediterranean, including the Louise Michel.
“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” says the statement.