British street artist Banksy has reportedly funded a bright pink rescue boat to help refugees in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe from North Africa.
Named Louise Michel after a 19th-century female French anarchist and teacher, the 31-metre motor yacht features some of Banksy‘s trademark art, including a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.
The boat’s official Twitter account said it had so far rescued 89 people, including 14 women and four children, and was seeking a place of safety for them to disembark.
The Bristol artist initiated the project when he emailed the former captain of several NGO rescue boats, Pia Klemp, according to The Guardian.
The paper says he wrote: “Hello Pia, 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. Well done. Banksy.”
Klemp is reported to have believed it was a joke at first.
She told the paper that the Bristol artist’s involvement was purely financial: “Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists.”
The 10-person crew is made of European activists, all of whom have experience in search and rescue.
The boat’s launch on 18 August from the Spanish seaport of Burriana, near Valencia, was kept secret and news of the mission has only been released following its first rescue.
The boat, which flies under a German flag, was formerly owned by French customs authorities.
While it is fairly small, the yacht has a top speed of 27 knots and so is considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels.
It will be attempting to outrun Libyan coastguards, who regularly accost refugees in transit and return them to Libya.
The Louise Michel’s mission statement is “to uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice”.
“We on board the Louise Michel believe we are all individuals, nationality should not make a difference to what rights one has and how we treat each other,” it says on its website.
“We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls – but our own.”
Over 7,600 migrants have been discovered at sea and returned to Libya so far this year, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.
On Wednesday, 45 people – including five children – died when the engine on their boat exploded off Libya, in the country’s deadliest shipwreck this year.
According to UN data, 443 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa so far in 2020.
More than 40,000 have arrived in Europe by sea during the same period.
Libya has been an ungoverned state since the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 and is now in a state of conflict as a series of competing groups struggle for power.