“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.”
With an email dated September 2019 and addressed to Captain Pia Klemp, begins the story of the Louise Michel, the humanitarian ship financed by Banksy.
A news, that of the artist’s involvement, voluntarily kept secret until yesterday, when the crew carried out the first rescues in the Central Mediterranean, a route considered among the most dangerous in the world.
Banksy and the entire crew, in fact, feared that by letting the news leak, the European authorities might hinder the mission, planned in secret between London, Berlin, and Burriana, where the ship flying the German flag docked to equip themselves for the rescues at sea.
Aboard the Louise Michel, a ship that owes its name to the French feminist and anarchist who lived in the 19th century, a crew of European activists, with long experience in search and rescue operations, left on August 18. They have already managed to rescue 89 people in danger, including 14 women and 4 children, and are now looking for a safe port to disembark passengers or transfer them to a European Coast Guard ship.
Painted in bright pink and with a work of art signed by Banksy depicting a young girl wrapped in a life jacket with a heart-shaped safety buoy, the 31-meter ship, previously owned by the French customs authorities, is smaller but faster than other rescue boats belonging to NGOs.
With a maximum speed of 27 knots, the Louise Michel would be able to pass the Libyan coast guard before it can reach the boats carrying refugees and migrants with the aim of taking them back to detention camps in Libya, places where, according to human rights organizations, torture, violence, and rape are a daily occurrence.
That of the Louise Michel is only the last of the interventions that try to prevent the deaths in the Mediterranean, there are many NGOs that also this year have engaged in relief activities but have been hampered by what they consider excessive and politically motivated inspections carried out by the Italian authorities, which were exacerbated by the advent of COVID-19.
In 2020, to date, more than 500 refugees and migrants have died in the Mediterranean, but it is estimated that the real number is considerably higher.
Claire Faggianelli, an activist who prepared the Louise Michel for her first mission, sees this project, much more political than artistic, as a wake-up call for sleepy Europe:
“Look, we have been yelling at you for years now. There is something that shouldn’t be happening at the very borders of Europe, and you close your eyes to it. Wake up”, she said without too many, unfair, twists and turns.