Street artist Banksy funds Mediterranean migrant rescue boat

Vessel is said to have taken nearly 90 people on board after setting off on August 18

In this undated handout photo, the Louise Michel, a migrants search and rescue ship operating in the Mediterranean and financed by British street artist Banksy, is seen at sea. MV Louise Michel/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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The secretive British street artist Banksy is funding a ship that is rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, according to a newspaper report.

Named after the 19th-century French anarchist, Louise Michel, the German-flagged boat left the Spanish port of Burriana on August 18, British newspaper The Guardian reported late on Thursday.

Chartered under strict security, the boat rescued 89 people including 14 women and two children in the central Mediterranean on Thursday, the paper said, declining to give the vessel's exact position.

"It is now looking for a safe seaport to disembark the passengers or to transfer them to a European coastguard vessel," the paper said.

Painted in bright pink, the vessel features a Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.

The 31-metre motor yacht that was formerly owned by French customs authorities is smaller but considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels, The Guardian said.

It has 10 crew members "made up of European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations" and is captained by German human rights activist Pia Klemp, who has captained other NGO rescue vessels.

Banksy's involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent Ms Klemp an email, according to The Guardian.

"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," the artist wrote.

Ms Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, told the paper she believed she was chosen because of her political stance, The Guardian said.

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 global coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year from north Africa with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organisation for Migration.


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