Banksy-funded refugee boat stranded in Mediterranean Sea

The Louise Michel has been funded by Banksy to rescue migrants. Credit: Louise Michel

A Banksy-funded refugee boat had to be rescued by the Italian Coastguard after becoming stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Louise Michel called for emergency help after helping more than two hundred people on board the vessel.

Crew said it was no longer safe because of the overcrowding, but emergency calls for help were ignored.

The boat features a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float. Credit: Louise Michel

In an update on Saturday afternoon, the crew said 49 "of the most vulnerable survivors" had been taken to safety by the Italian Coastguard. But added: "That's great - & leaves us with the majority still waiting."

The former French navy boat - launched under its new guide last week, featuring a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float - was reported off the coast of Malta on Saturday (29 August) morning.

In a series of tweets, staff said they needed “immediate assistance”.

One tweet said: "#LouiseMichel is unable to move, she is no longer the master of her manoeuvre, due to her overcrowded deck and a life-raft deployed at her side, but above all due to Europe ignoring our emergency calls for immediate assistance. The responsible authorities remain unresponsive."

Another read: "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."

A summary of a series of calls for assistance to various authorities was also posted, but they got no answer or were told there was no assistance available, the account said.

The vessel has already carried out a number of rescue missions, according to its Twitter account, and on Friday evening said it had assisted another 130 people, including many women and children.

At that point, it said it was "safeguarding 219 people with a crew of 10". 

An earlier tweet said there was "already one dead person on the boat".

More than 200 people are said to be on board the vessel, which is reportedly stranded. Credit: Louise Michel

The vessel was bought with the proceeds of some of Banksy's works and is captained by a professional crew with a "flat hierarchy and a vegan diet".

The project aims to help fill a void left by European authorities, who the organisers say are "leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea".

The Louise Michel's mission statement is "to uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice".