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More than 200 people transferred from Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat

Some of the ‘most vulnerable survivors’ were taken off the Louise Michel vessel more than 12 hours after the ship’s leaders said it called for help.

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The Banksy-funded Louise Michel refugee rescue boat is in the Mediterranean (Louise Michel/PA)

The Banksy-funded Louise Michel refugee rescue boat is in the Mediterranean (Louise Michel/PA)

The Banksy-funded Louise Michel refugee rescue boat is in the Mediterranean (Louise Michel/PA)

Scores of people taken in by a Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat in the Mediterranean have been transferred to another humanitarian ship, while dozens were helped by the Italian Coastguard.

Those associated with the Louise Michel former French navy vessel warned: “It’s not over”, as they demanded safe refuge for “survivors”.

At one stage there were 219 people on board the boat, including 33 in a life raft deployed by its side and one corpse in a body bag, someone involved in the mission said.

The vessel – launched under its new humanitarian guise last week – was left stranded off the coast of Malta for around 12 hours into Saturday, according to tweets posted from the ship’s account.

Those associated with the vessel, which features a Banksy painting depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float and had a crew of 10, said it could not safely move because of an overcrowded deck.

A series of calls for help to various authorities were made over the course of almost four hours on Friday evening, but either went unanswered or organisers were told there was no assistance available, a post on the Twitter account said.

But the Italian Coastguard stepped in to evacuate 49 of the “most vulnerable” on board on Saturday afternoon as well as the body of a male who died before the Louise Michel could reach a rubber boat a day earlier, a tweet from the ship organisers’ account said.

Another humanitarian ship Sea-Watch 4 – a joint project between United4Rescue, Sea-Watch, and Doctors without Borders – took all the remaining people on board.

A tweet from the Louise Michel account said: “Just transferred all remaining guests onto #SeaWatch4, who now have about 350 people on board. It’s not over: We demand a Place of Safety for all survivors, now.”

Earlier, a video was posted to Banksy’s Instagram account showing the vessel at work.

It was accompanied by the words: “Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht, to cruise the Med.

“It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’.”

The footage ended with the words All Black Lives Matter.

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 Guardian reported that the British street artist first made contact with Pia Klemp, an experienced captain of a number NGO boats, in September 2019 asking to help.

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”.

PA