Italy Detains “Banksy” Migrant Rescue Boat for Second Time

NGO migrant rescue boat
Louise Michel (note the Banksy artwork behind the pilot house window) was ordered detained for the second time by Italian authorities (Louise Michel)

Published Jul 4, 2024 2:24 PM by The Maritime Executive


Italian authorities for the second time in a little over a year have issued a detention order to a German-operated rescue boat that became famous because of its funding by British street artist “Banksy.” The group’s vessel Louse Michel had just returned to sea after a long maintenance period and completing the rescue of 36 individuals before running afoul of the Italian regulations.

Starting in February 2023, Italy enacted new regulations controlling the operations of the fleet of NGO rescue vessels combing the Mediterranean. Among the rules, the Coast Guard has the right to designate the port destination for the returning rescue vessels and failure to follow the instructions will result in being detained for 20 days.

According to the German NGO Louise Michel, rescue vessels were detained by the Italian authorities 13 times in 2023. Its vessel of the same name was detained in March 2023, and yesterday they reported the second detention order for the vessel. The group is “demanding the immediate withdrawal of the detention,” citing the continuing danger to migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The group Louise Michel reports that so far this year over 1,000 deaths or people gone missing have been recorded in the Mediterranean. For all of 2023, they report over 2,100 people lost their lives while it is expected that many others went missing and were never found. They assert over 53,000 people have been turned back to Libya or Tunisia in the ongoing crisis.

The well-known street artist Banksy reportedly approached the group in 2019 saying that he wanted to donate the proceeds from art done about the migrant crisis. The group used the funds to purchase a surplus 31-meter (102-foot) French patrol boat formerly used by the Customs Authority. It was renamed Louise Michel after a French anarchist. Banksy provided an artwork of a girl in a life vest holding a safety buoy and to make the vessel unique it was painted pink before starting its missions in 2020.

While the vessel is one of the smaller ships in the NGO flotilla, it is also reported to be one of the fastest. It is capable of reaching 27 knots, a speed that lets it outrun the Libyan Coast Guard.

The group reports the vessel conducted 18 rescue operations in 2023 with five volunteer crews. They assisted 923 people. At the end of 2023, the Louise Michel headed to a shipyard in Spain for a much-needed overhaul of the 30-plus-year-old vessel. They worked on the hull and the engines were removed for an overhaul.

The Louise Michel responded to Mayday relays from the EU Coast Guard Frontex on July 1 but only found an empty rubber raft. However, hours later into their mission, they found 36 people, including 17 unaccompanied minors in what the group says was an “unseaworthy rubber boat in distress.” The people were taken aboard the Louise Michel and given water, blankets, and medical care. The group reports that the Italian Coast Guard instructed them to sail to the port of Pozzallo, Sicily to disembark the rescued individuals. 

“As the weather on the route was predicted to be too bad for a safe journey, our crew decided to seek shelter closer to Lampedusa where, during the night, we then got permission to disembark all survivors,” the group writes. Hours later, the group was served with a 20-day detention for the vessel for not following the order to disembark in Sicily.