The legendary street artist Banksy is sponsoring a boat that is being used to rescue refugees traveling to Europe from North Africa. The boat began its mission less than two weeks ago and has already rescued at least 89 people, according to a recent report from The Guardian.
The boat is named Louise Michel, after the French feminist and anarchist known for her role in the Paris Commune. The outside of the boat is decorated with Banksy’s distinct style of art, featuring the image of a young girl in a life vest in the shape of a heart, with the word “RESCUE” very large on the side.
Banksy says that he made some money from pieces about the migrant crisis and wanted to use the money to help. He reached out to Pia Klemp, a former captain of several other rescue boats who has been risking government persecution to rescue migrants for many years.
In an email he wrote, “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. 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 said that she agreed to run a boat for him as long as he didn’t get in the way.
“Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists,” she said.
Klemp said that she believes Banksy chose her for this project because of the philosophical motivations behind her rescue missions.
“I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she said.
In 2017, authorities in Italy attempted to charge her with “assisting in illegal immigration,” which could have carried a 20-year prison sentence if she was convicted.
The boat is a bit smaller than others that have been used for rescue missions but it is also faster, which is something that the crew hopes will give them an edge over the various government agencies that detain and deport refugees that they find in the water.
So far this year, more than 500 refugees and migrants are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean sea, and experts fear that the actual number could be much higher. 15% of people crossing from north Africa die at sea, according to the refugee charity “Help Refugees.”
When refugees are “rescued” by authorities, they are typically sent back to Libya, where they often end up in detention camps. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 7,600 people have been sent to Libya after they captured while crossing the Mediterranean this year.
Klemp said that she hopes the boat is fast enough to “outrun the so-called Libyan coastguard before they get to boats with refugees and migrants and pull them back to the detention camps in Libya”
It is estimated that Klemp and the crews she has worked with have rescued 14,000 migrants from drowning.