British artist Banksy, whose paintings sell for millions of dollars, has decided to highlight the migrant crisis problem in the Mediterranean. To that end, he has bought and equipped a boat to help save migrants trying to make their way to Europe.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, a well-known proverb says. Art world’s bad boy, street artist Banksy, has acquired a boat that will rescue migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa across the Mediterranean sea. Has he bitten off more than he can chew?
Banksy has enlisted the help of Pia Klemp, a captain of NGO boats that have rescued hundreds of migrants from the sea in the past years and has had a brush with the law because of it. Yet, the boat itself has had to issue a distress call while sailing in the Mediterranean.
How did it come about?
In a letter he wrote to Klemp, Banksy said “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass.” He went on to say “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 first believed it must have been a prank, but when she realised the serious intention behind it, she joined the cause. The vessel is called the Louise Michel, named after an anarchist feminist, and is painted bright pink and is adorned with a signature Banksy girl holding a heart-shaped life buoy.
It was going well at first: after sailing clandestinely from a Spanish port, MV Louise Michel saved 89 people on August 27, 2020. Then it saved another 130 people that it came across. At that point, the boat became too overcrowded and steering became a problem. The Louise Michel was in trouble, and announced it on Twitter.
🔴Alert! #LouiseMichel assisted another 130 people - among them many women & children - and nobody is helping! We are reaching a State of Emergency. We need immediate assistance, @guardiacostiera & @Armed_Forces_MT. We are safeguarding 219 people with a crew of 10. Act #EU, now!— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 28, 2020
According to the Washington Post, quoting Deutsche Presse Agentur, an Italian coast guard vessel arrived on the afternoon of August 29 and “took in 49 of the most vulnerable passengers, in addition to the body of a deceased man.”
The Washington Post claimed the German-flagged Louise Michel was in Maltese waters but Italian authorities intervened at Malta’s request. “Another boat, the Sea Watch 4, later responded to the Mayday and took on the remaining passengers.”
On August 30, Banksy posted a damning video on Instagram, with clips from the auction of his works interspersed with migrants fighting for their lives at sea. “Like most people who make it in the art world,” he wrote, “I bought a yacht to cruise the Med.” He continued “It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat.”
“Because EU authorities,” here he inserted the photo of an official sleeping at his desk, “deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans.” The video ends with ‘ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.”
MV Louise Michel’s aim is to save as many lives as possible. On their website, they state their mission as: ”To uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice. We onboard 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. We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls - but our own.” Yet Banksy’s vessel may also serve another purpose: to highlight the refugee crisis in Europe.
The boat accused Maltese authorities of ignoring its distress calls by telling the crew there were “many other urgent cases” of which the Louise Michel crew claim they never caught sight.
This is how our Mayday relay calls got ignored: At 28.08.2020, 20.03 CEST we were told by RCC Malta that there are "many other urgent cases" ...how comes then @Armed_Forces_MT that there are no reports about disembarkations in #Malta? What happend to the other people in distress? pic.twitter.com/IXIXRNJaxD— LouiseMichel (@MVLouiseMichel) August 30, 2020
On the lifeboat’s website, the accusations against European authorities continue in a strongly worded statement: “The people at sea are not unlucky casualties of the elements. This crisis is not a natural disaster. It is created by political decisions and a failure of humanity. It cannot be solved by lifeboats. If we want to sustainably stop the drowning we have to stop forcing people onto these boats. So if you want to contribute - speak up against racism, join the movements for climate justice - take any kind of action to defend global respect for all forms of life, near or far.”
Seeking support, Banksy and his cohorts have asked for either monetary compensation to fund the vessel and any impending legal cases, or activism to help spread the word about search and rescue missions, which they reword as “solidarity and resistance.”