A hot pink refugee ship, on a secret mission in the Mediterranean, is the latest project by anonymous British street artist Banksy.
The artist has financed a rescue operation to bring refugees from North Africa safely to Europe aboard the Louise Michel. The boat is crewed by activists who have worked in search-and-rescue missions with Sea-Watch, a German NGO that patrols the Mediterranean to rescue migrants.
The artist approached Sea-Watch captain Pia Klemp last September in the hopes of aiding their efforts.
“I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” Banksy wrote to Klemp, according to the . “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.”
The ship features an original Banksy artwork—a lifejacket-clad girl holding aloft a buoy shaped like a heart, in a take on his famous image—but the artist is letting the professionals handle the search-and-rescue duties.
“Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists,” Klemp told the .
The ship, named after the Paris Commune revolutionary, left port on August 18 from Burriana, Spain. The vessel has already rescued 89 people, including 14 women and four children.
The 10-person crew is looking to bring them ashore to the European mainland before they are detained by the Libyan coastguard, which would likely transfer them to detention camps in the war-torn nation, which has been the fate of over 7,600 migrants this year alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The voyage was kept a secret upon departure out of fear that press coverage would have drawn undue attention from authorities. The is now looking for a safe seaport where the passengers can disembark, or to transfer them to a European coastguard vessel.
The plight of refugees has been a recurring theme in Banksy’s work, including in several pieces skewering France’s Calais refugee camp.
Just last month, the artist auctioned off a trio of found seascapes he altered to include empty lifejackets symbolizing those who have died crossing the Mediterranean, donating the proceeds of the £2.23 million ($2.95 million) sale to a Bethlehem hospital.
The 2020 death count among refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean stands at at least 500, including 45 who died just yesterday in an explosion off the coast of Libya. It was the deadliest shipwreck in the country this year.