ROME: An Italian coastguard vessel came to the rescue on Saturday of a rescue vessel funded by British street artist Banksy, which sent out a distress signal with more than 200 migrants onboard.
The German-flagged MV Louise Michel said it was stranded and needed urgent help after lending assistance to a boat that was carrying at least one dead migrant.
The 31-metre vessel’s crew said it was overcrowded and unable to move after encountering another boat attempting to cross the expanse of sea dividing Europe and Africa with 130 people on board.
“There is already one dead person on the boat. We need immediate assistance,” the Louise Michel crew wrote on Twitter, saying other migrants had fuel burns and had been at sea for days.
An Italian coastguard patrol boat was launched from Lampedusa island and took on board the migrants most in need of aid, many of them women and children.
“In view of the danger the situation posed, the coastguards sent a patrol boat from Lampedusa... which took on board the 49 people in the most fragile condition — 32 women, 13 children and four men,” the coastguard said in a statement.
The vessel’s crew of 10 had earlier rescued another 89 people from a rubber boat in distress on Thursday.
They said on Twitter that there were a total 219 people on board and that they had requested assistance from the Italian and Maltese authorities.
The boat — named after 19th-century French anarchist Louise Michel — was around 90 kilometres southeast of Lampedusa on Saturday, according to the global ship tracking website Marine Traffic.
Thousands of people are thought to have died making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to flee conflict, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Sea-Watch 4, which has rescued 201 migrants and is itself in search of a host port, also decided to help the Louise Michel “in the face of the lack of reaction” from the authorities, a spokesman for the German NGO Sea-Watch, which charters the boat with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said.
The Italian left-wing collective Mediterranea, meanwhile, announced it would send the ship Mare Ionio from the port of Augusta in Sicily to assist.
Banksy’s decision to fund the high-speed boat follows a body of work by the artist that has levelled scathing judgements on Europe’s halting response to the migrant crisis.
Painted in hot pink and white, the Louise Michel features a Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.
The motor yacht, formerly owned by French customs, is smaller but considerably faster than other charity rescue vessels — enabling it to outrun Libyan coastguard boats, according to The Guardian.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2020