Earlier this week, news reports revealed that Banksy, the elusive street artist with a mass following in England and around the world, had funded a rescue boat that was set to transport North African refugees to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. On Saturday, after the vessel began making its voyage, its operators sent out urgent calls for help, saying the boat was stranded.
On Saturday, a Twitter account run by the crew of the vessel, called the Louise Michel, said it was carrying one dead person on board. Hours later, it tweeted that it was experiencing unexpected difficulties, saying, “We repeat, #LouiseMichel is unable to safely move and nobody is coming to our aid. The people rescued have experienced extreme trauma, it’s time for them to be brought to a #PlaceOfSafety. We need immediate assistance.”
The Italian Coast Guard and Sea Watch 4, a German rescue boat that is also helping migrants cross the sea, have responded to these calls for help, according to the Twitter account. Some refugees were disembarked by the Italian Coast Guard. At one point, the Louise Michel was carrying more than 200 refugees. Almost 50 of them were taken off board by the Italian Coast Guard, according to the Louise Michel crew’s Twitter.
Some officials have called for the boat to disembark all of its passengers. Two United Nations–run organizations, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency, issued a joint statement on Saturday in which they said the boat was carrying more people than was thought to be safe. “Any delays [in disembarking passengers] could jeopardize the safety of all people onboard, including its crew members,” that statement reads.
The Louise Michel was funded by Banksy after the artist reached out to Pia Klemp, one of the boat’s managers, in search of a way to more directly support efforts to help migrants. The boat includes in it a Banksy work featuring a girl holding a heart-shaped buoy, though the artist is not directly involved in operating the vessel. “Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists,” Klemp told the Guardian on Thursday.