A refugee rescue vessel funded by British street artist Banksy said it was stranded and needed urgent help on Saturday after lending assistance to a boat in the Mediterranean that was carrying at least one dead migrant.
The German-flagged Louise Michel said it was overcrowded and unable to move after encountering another boat attempting to cross the expanse dividing Europe and Africa with 130 people on board.
"There is already one dead person on the boat. We need immediate assistance," the crew of the 31-metre (101 feet) Louise Michel wrote on Twitter, saying other migrants had fuel burns and had been at sea for days.
The vessel's crew of 10 had earlier rescued another 89 people from a rubber boat in distress on Thursday, and said European rescue agencies had so far ignored its distress calls.
#LouiseMichel is unable to move, she is no longer the master of her manoeuver, due to her overcrowded deck and a li… https://t.co/ZkmLnqF3Tt— LouiseMichel (@LouiseMichel) 1598673881.0
The boat -- named after 19th-century French anarchist Louise Michel -- was around 90 kilometres southeast of the Italian island of Lampedusa early on Saturday, according to the global ship tracking website Marine Traffic.
Thousands of people are thought to have died making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to flee conflict, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
We repeat, #LouiseMichel is unable to safely move and nobody is coming to our aid. The people rescued have experien… https://t.co/tZhYdcvT4z— LouiseMichel (@LouiseMichel) 1598683686.0
Banksy's decision to fund the high-speed boat follows a body of work by the artist that has levelled scathing judgements on Europe's halting response to the migrant crisis.
'I can't keep the money'
Painted in hot pink and white, the Louise Michel features a Banksy artwork depicting a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.
The motor yacht, formerly owned by French customs, is smaller but considerably faster than other charity rescue vessels -- enabling it to outrun Libyan coastguard boats, according to The Guardian.
Its crew is "made up of European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations" and is captained by German human rights activist Pia Klemp, who has also captained other such rescue vessels, the paper reported.
🔴The @MVLouiseMichel is urgently requesting assistance, on scene with a boat in distress. They report ~130 men,… https://t.co/JhlqQWN6KC— MSF Sea (@MSF Sea) 1598649590.0
Banksy's involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent Klemp an email.
"Hello Pia, I've read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass," Banksy wrote.
"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."
Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, told the paper she believed she was chosen because of her political stance, The Guardian said.
"I don't see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight," she told the paper.
The crew with diverse backgrounds "all identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists advocating for radical political change," The Guardian said.
A spokesman for Burriana's port confirmed that the Louise Michel docked there on June 23 and left on August 18.
"During this time, they have been repairing and preparing the boat but they did it by themselves, they did not use the port services", he told AFP.
About Banksy, "if he has been here, he came incognito," the official said.
The Louise Michel left Burriana on August 18 "under the strictest secrecy", The Guardian reported.