Migrant rescue ship funded by Banksy is impounded in Italy after responding to Med distress calls

A migrant rescue ship funded by Banksy has been impounded in Italy after responding to distress calls in the Mediterranean, supposedly in breach of laws introduced by Rome’s right wing government to clampdown on crossings.

The MV Louise Michel was seized on the island of  Lampedusa on Sunday after Italy’s coast guard said the boat had disobeyed its instructions to head to Sicily.

The coast guard said it had ordered the Louise Michel ship to dock in Trapani after it performed an initial rescue operation in Libya’s Search And Rescue area, as it was required to do under a new Italian law decried by rights groups.

The ship, which has been funded by the British street artist since 2019, instead went on to assist migrants on three other boats in Malta’s Search And Rescue area.

The coast guard added that it was already on its way to assist the three other boats at the time, one of which the crew of the Louise Michel said had capsized. The crew said the coast guard had ignored ‘repeated’ requests for assistance.

It ordered the Louise Michel to dock in accordance with the new law passed in Italy establishing a code of conduct for migrant charity ships, the coast guard said. 

The MV Louise Michel (pictured) - a rescue ship funded by Banksy - was seized in Lampedusa on Sunday after Italy's coast guard said the boat had disobeyed its instructions to head to Sicily after carrying out a migrant rescue operation

The MV Louise Michel (pictured) – a rescue ship funded by Banksy – was seized in Lampedusa on Sunday after Italy’s coast guard said the boat had disobeyed its instructions to head to Sicily after carrying out a migrant rescue operation

The 30-metre long, pink and white Louise Michel, named after a French feminist anarchist, eventually docked in Lampedusa late on Saturday with 178 migrants on board, where it was impounded.

The coast guard said it wanted to prevent the ship from taking too many people on board, thereby putting their safety at risk. 

Local authorities on Lampedusa said their reception facilities are now full.

The coast guard said that in the last 48 hours it had coordinated rescue operations for 58 boats, helping a total of more than 3,300 people.

The NGO Louise Michel said on its Twitter account that it was told that its ship was being seized due to a violation of the new Italian legislation and that it was ready to fight against the decision.

‘We know of dozens of boats in distress right in front of the island at this very moment, yet we are being prevented from assisting. This is unacceptable!’ it said.

‘European authorities are fully aware of people in distress in their SAR zone. Still, they block #LouiseMichel from leaving port and rendering assistance. Several lives were lost in 2 shipwrecks yesterday. 

‘These deaths are not an accident nor a tragedy. They are wanted,’ it added.

Earlier, it said that one of the three boats had capsized, leaving 34 people in the war.

‘One of the boats capsized, the crew said on Twitter. ‘And 34 people were recovered from the water at night. A mother and her unconscious baby had to be evacuated, along with another person in a life-threatening condition. 

‘An Italian coastguard vessel was also present, but ignored repeated calls for assistance for about 37 minutes before finally supporting, while people were in the water just in front of them,’ the tweet said.

‘Even after responding to multiple mayday relays from an aircraft about boats in distress, the Italian MRCC [Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre] repeatedly pressured the crew not to react accordingly, but to sail north without engaging in another rescue.’

In recent months, the hard-line Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate, often assigning ships to ports farther north after a single rescue.

Italy's coast guard said it had ordered the MV Louise Michel (pictured) to dock in Trapani in Sicily after it performed an initial rescue operation in Libya's Search And Rescue area, as it was required to do under a new Italian law decried by rights groups. The ship, which has been funded by the British street artists since 2019, instead went on to assist migrants on three other boats in Malta's Search And Rescue area

Italy’s coast guard said it had ordered the MV Louise Michel (pictured) to dock in Trapani in Sicily after it performed an initial rescue operation in Libya’s Search And Rescue area, as it was required to do under a new Italian law decried by rights groups. The ship, which has been funded by the British street artists since 2019, instead went on to assist migrants on three other boats in Malta’s Search And Rescue area

In recent months, the hard-line Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (pictured in Brussels on Friday) has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate, often assigning ships to ports farther north after a single rescue

In recent months, the hard-line Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (pictured in Brussels on Friday) has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate, often assigning ships to ports farther north after a single rescue

That means the vessels need more time to return to the sea after bringing migrants aboard and taking them safely to shore. 

The law – passed by Italy’s parliament last month – requires rescue vessels to request access to a port and sail to it ‘without delay’ after a sea rescue.

Humanitarian organisations have lamented that the crackdown also includes an order to the charity boats not to remain at sea after the first rescue operation in hopes of performing other rescues, but to head immediately to their assigned port. Violators face stiff fines and confiscation of rescue vessels.

Such groups say this limits their ability to save lives.

Meloni’s allies say the presence of so many rescue ships in the Mediterranean encourages migrants to risk their lives on smuggler boats.

In the latest of a string of fatal incidents in recent days, at least 29 migrants died when their two boats sank off the coast of Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the Tunisian coast guard said on Sunday.

So far this year, some 20,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, far exceeding the 6,000 who came in the same period in each of the preceding years, according to Interior Ministry figures.

Over the weekend alone, an estimated 3,300 migrants – many departing on small boats from Libya or Tunisia’s coastal city of Sfax – were rescued in the Mediterranean and were heading toward Italian ports to disembark, the Italian coast guard said.

The hard-line law was heavily criticised soon after it was passed last month when a wooden migrant boat capsized off the coast of Calabria.

So far, the bodies of at least 90 people have been recovered – including dozens of children. The victims were from Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Also over the weekend, Libya’s coast guard fired warning shots over a humanitarian vessel as it attempted to rescue a boat carrying migrants off Libya’s coast, the sea rescue group said. 

The coast guard went on to return some 80 Europe-bound migrants to Libyan soil. 

The incident Saturday in international waters was the latest reckless sea interception of migrants by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union to stem the influx of migrants to Europe, said the SOS Mediterranee group, whose vessel was warned off by the coast guard.

A spokesman for the coast guard didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Italian coast guard said it had received a report about the incident, but complained that SOS Mediterranee didn’t follow correct procedures in reporting it.

The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship chartered and run by the non-profit SOS Mediterranee, was responding to a distress call to help the rubber boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea when a Libyan coast guard vessel arrived at the scene, the group said.

The Libyan coast guard vessel ‘dangerously’ approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew ‘with guns and firing gunshots in the air,’ the SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.

The coast guard was caught on camera threatening the vessel and firing a weapon into the air. In the footage, the coast guard vessel is seen traveling at a high rate of speed before maneuvering, apparently to prevent the Ocean Viking from reaching the migrant boat. At one point, gun shots are heard.

‘You can’t shoot at us. You can’t shoot at us. We’re leaving the waters now,’ a person on the Ocean Viking is heard saying.

Under threat, the Ocean Viking sailed away while the Libyan coast guard intercepted the boat and ‘forcibly’ took the migrants back to war-wrecked Libya, it said.

Seabird 2, a civil surveillance plane owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, reported seeing migrants who had fallen overboard from the rubber boat before the coast guard recovered them.

In further footage from the group’s civil surveillance plane, the coast guard was seen maneuvering and approaching the rubber boat, before forcing the migrants to disembark on the coast guard vessel.

Gunshots were also heard in the footage, with people on board the surveillance plane saying, ‘They are shooting in the water … They are shooting at the people.’

The hard-line law was heavily criticised soon after it was passed last month when a wooden migrant boat capsized off the coast of Calabria. Pictured: Rescue workers recover a body from the ocean on February 26 after the incident. As many as 90 people were killed

 The hard-line law was heavily criticised soon after it was passed last month when a wooden migrant boat capsized off the coast of Calabria. Pictured: Rescue workers recover a body from the ocean on February 26 after the incident. As many as 90 people were killed

Saturday’s incident was the latest report from European NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea of threats or violent behavior by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union, part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country towards Italian shores.

Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. 

The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages.

source: dailymail.co.uk