Banksy Mediterranean rescue ship transfers migrants

The overloaded boat issued a distress signal while carrying more than 200 migrants

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A Mediterranean rescue boat funded by British street artist Banksy has transferred migrants onboard to another vessel after issuing urgent calls for help.

The Louise Michel, named after a French feminist anarchist, said it was overloaded and stranded after trying to find a safe port since Thursday for the 219 migrants it has picked up off the coast of Libya.

The boat, which began operating last week, has issued a series of tweets and on Saturday said its situation was worsening and appealed for help from authorities in Italy, Malta and Germany.

In a message posted on Twitter late on Saturday, the Louise Michel said it had transferred the remaining migrants and refugees on board to the Sea Watch 4 rescue vessel.

Sea Watch 4, which is run by Medecins Sans Frontiers and Sea Watch, is now carrying 350 migrants.

Earlier, the Italian coast guard collected 49 migrants from the Louise Michel.

Throughout the day, the ship funded by the British artist had called for help on social media.

"We are reaching a state of emergency. We need immediate assistance," said one tweet, adding that it was also carrying a body bag containing the corpse of a migrant who had died.

Another said the boat was unable to move and was "no longer the master of her own destiny" due to her overcrowded deck.

"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," another said.

On Thursday the vessel, which has a crew of 10, rescued 89 people, including 14 women and four children, from a rubber boat in distress and on Friday it helped a further 130 people.

On Saturday afternoon the Italian coastguard came to the aid of 49 of those onboard.

"In view of the danger the situation posed, the coastguards sent a patrol boat from (the island of) Lampedusa... which took onboard the 49 people in the most fragile condition - 32 women, 13 children and four men," the coastguard said in a statement.

A former French Navy boat daubed in pink and white, the 30-metre-long Louise Michel was bought with proceeds from the sale of Banksy artwork.

It is captained and crewed by a team of rescue professionals from across Europe.

The side of the vessel's cabin features a picture of a girl holding a heart-shaped life buoy in Banksy's familiar stencilled style.

Banksy, a Bristol-born artist who keeps his identity a secret, is known for his political or social-commentary graffiti that has appeared in cities around the world.

Last year one of his paintings depicting primates sitting in Britain's parliament sold for more than $12 million at auction.

Banksy has highlighted the plight of refugees and migrants in past works.

In 2018, he painted walls in Paris with murals on the theme of migration, and in 2015, he sent fixtures from his temporary "Dismaland" theme park in western England to an informal migrant camp in Calais, northern France.

Later the same year he created a mural of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs at the location.

Early this month, humanitarian organisations said they would resume migrant rescues in the Mediterranean Sea where none have operated since the Ocean Viking docked in Italy in early July.

Before the Ocean Viking's last mission, rescue operations in the Mediterranean had been suspended for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.