Migrants on board the Louise Michel rescue boat | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/S.Palacios
Migrants on board the Louise Michel rescue boat | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP Photo/S.Palacios

The Louise Michel sent a distress call saying it was overloaded with migrants, one of whom has died. Several of the most vulnerable were picked up by the Italian coast guard; around 150 were moved to another rescue ship.

The Italian coastguard sent help on Saturday to a rescue boat funded by street artist Banksy after the vessel issued urgent pleas for assistance, saying it was stranded and overloaded with migrants.

The coastguard said a patrol boat dispatched from the southern Italian island of Lampedusa had taken 49 of "those considered most vulnerable" among the 219 migrants onboard the migrant rescue boat, called Louise Michel.

The rest were transferred onto another vessel, the German-flagged Sea-Watch 4.

"Louise Michel no longer has guests on board, but the struggle of the survivors is not over," a Twitter account for the rescue ship wrote on Sunday.

The Sea-Watch 4 now has about 350 people on board, including people saved in previous rescues, the ship said. Over two dozen of the migrants have been at sea for over three weeks.

The Louise Michel earlier made a call for emergency help on Twitter after coming to the aid of another boat in the Mediterranean.

The vessel, which has a crew of 10, had rescued 89 people on Thursday from a rubber dinghy in distress. It then encountered and assisted another boat trying to cross from North Africa to Europe which had 130 people on board, including someone who had already died.

Distress calls initially ignored

The 31-meter (101-foot) Louise Michel, which sails under a German flag, requested help on Twitter, saying that the migrants that it had picked up had been at sea for days.

One had already died and some were suffering from fuel burns, another message said.

A later message read: "#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."

European rescue missions ceased in July during the coronavirus pandemic. The crew of the Louise Michel said that European relief agencies had refused their call for help and called on them to take responsibility, tweeting to the Maltese army to "proceed immediately to the position and do your job!"

Pink, 'anti-fascist' boat

The boat is painted pink and white and features a piece of artwork by Banksy showing a young girl in a life-vest and holding a safety buoy in the shape of a heart.

The artist, whose identity is unknown, reached out to German human rights activist Pia Klemp in September 2019 and offered to buy the rescue mission a new boat.

Read more: Refugees in Germany: The Jafaars, Angela Merkel and fleeing Syria

The boat is small, but fast and able to outrun the Libyan coastguard, according to The Guardian. It is named after the 19th century French anarchist Louise Michel.

Klemp told the newspaper that she believed she was chosen by the artist for her political position saying, "I don't see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight."

Last year, over 100,000 people attempted to make the journey across the Mediterranean in order to escape conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East with nearly 1,300 people dying.

Banksy has previously been critical of Europe's lackluster response to the migrant crisis.

ab, jsi/mm (AFP, dpa)

First published: August 30, 2020

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