Italian Authorities Just Seized the Rescue Ship Banksy Funded to Help Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean

The vessel has been blocked from operating for 20 days.

The rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / AFP via Getty Images.
The rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy. Photo: Thomas Lohnes / AFP via Getty Images.

A migrant rescue ship financed and supported by British artist Banksy has been blocked from operating for 20 days by Italian authorities.

The MV Louise Michel, named after the 19th-century French anarchist, was held on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on March 25 without an official written explanation. It was then ordered to head to the port of Trapani and notified on March 27 that it would be detained for violating a recently enacted law that prevents ships from performing multiple rescue trips.

The ship, a converted French navy vessel, had rescued 180 people across four missions on March 25. In response to its detainment, the crew said “the only aim of the decree law is the blockage of rescue ships, willingly taking into account the deaths of people on the move.” It has pledged to take all available avenues to fight the detention.

As highlighted by the MV Louise Michel’s crew on its social media accounts, at least 29 people drowned off the coast of Tunisia while trying to reach Italy on March 26.

The legislation is part of a broader push by Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s newly elected right-wing prime minister, to undermine the efforts of NGOs conducting search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. In the first months of 2023, Italy has seen the number of migrants arriving by boat triple compared to the previous year, in part due to routes from Turkey, Greece, and Balkans being blocked.

Banksy’s involvement in humanitarian rescue missions arrived out of the blue when he sent an email to Pia Klemp, an experienced captain of several NGO boats, asking if she could use money to buy a boat. The MV Louise Michel was purchased using the proceeds of Banksy’s art sales in October 2019 and is spray-painted with a girl wearing a lifejacket and holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.

It began rescue missions in August 2020, and runs on a flat hierarchy and a vegan diet.


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