British street artist Banksy funds refugee rescue boat

LONDON/ROME (Reuters) – British street artist Banksy is funding a boat crewed by volunteer rescue professionals to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe from Africa.

The boat, named “Louise Michel” after a French feminist anarchist, has been operational since last week. On Thursday it rescued 89 people, including 14 women and four children, from a rubber boat in distress, the group said on its website.

The 89 migrants are still onboard the boat and waiting for a safe port to disembark.

A former French Navy boat daubed in pink and white, the 30-metre long Louise Michel was bought with proceeds from the sale of Banksy artwork, the group said. The side of the vessel’s cabin features an artwork of a girl holding a heart-shaped life buoy his familiar stencilled style.

The Bristol-born artist, who keeps his identity a secret, is known for his political or social-commentary graffiti that has popped up in cities around the world. Last year one of his paintings depicting primates sitting in Britain’s parliament sold for more than $12 million at auction.

Banksy has highlighted the plight of refugees and migrants in his works before. In 2018, he painted walls in Paris with murals on the theme of migration, and in 2015, he sent fixtures from his temporary “Dismaland” theme park in western England to an informal migrant camp in Calais, northern France. Later the same year he created a mural of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs at the location.

A PR agent who has worked for Banksy in the past did not respond to a request for comment.

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