Coastguards rescue 49 migrants including 13 children from Banksy’s rescue boat

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A rescue boat funded by street artist Banksy and carrying hundreds of migrants was last night in danger of capsizing in the Mediterranean.

In a series of mayday alerts, the MV Louise Michel, which first ran into trouble on Friday, said it couldn’t move because of an overcrowded deck. 

Italian coastguards yesterday reached the vessel – lying in waters between Malta and the island of Lampedusa – but were only able to rescue 49 of the most vulnerable passengers, among them 13 children.

Now, of the 209, 160 migrants remain on board with ten crew.

Italian coastguards yesterday reached the vessel but were only able to rescue 49 of the most vulnerable passengers, among them 13 children

The MV Louise Micheal, named after a female anarchist, lying in waters between Malta and the island of Lampedusa

The MV Louise Micheal, named after a female anarchist, lying in waters between Malta and the island of Lampedusa

There are more than 200 people on board the Louise Michel and one dead body, according to tweets posted from the vessel's account

There are more than 200 people on board the Louise Michel and one dead body, according to tweets posted from the vessel’s account

Complaining of dehydration, those who remained on board were praying that another rescue boat despatched from the Sicilian port of Augusta 167 miles away would reach them in time.

But the Louise Michel last night remained dangerously overloaded and was said to be ‘losing its balance’. 

The 100ft former French navy vessel, named after a female anarchist, has a maximum capacity of 120.

‘We repeat, #LouiseMichel is unable to safely move and nobody is coming to our aid,’ said a tweet sent from the vessel. 

‘The people rescued have experienced extreme trauma, it’s time for them to be brought to a #PlaceOfSafety. We need immediate assistance.’

Migration activists criticised Banksy for launching a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, saying it would only encourage people smugglers to put more migrants on small boats and send them towards Europe. 

The boat features some of Banksy’s trademark work, including a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy.

So far this year, 550 migrants have died trying to cross the 300-mile stretch between Libya and the coasts of Italy and Malta.

The Louise Michel’s passengers were mainly African men believed to have set off from the Libyan coast in flimsy dinghies – but also include women and children. 

One of the dinghies carrying the migrants also had a dead body, which was taken on board and then placed on a life raft, covered by a white sheet. The life raft was then attached to the Louise Michel and dragged along.

Last night, Lea Reisner, the head of operations for Louise Michel, said: ‘The people have sat in a mix of salt water and fuel for days. It is night and European states are not doing their f****** job. 

They deny responsibility while we are trying to keep everyone alive.’ 

Pictured: Migrants being transferred at the commercial port of Lampedusa

Pictured: Migrants being transferred at the commercial port of Lampedusa

There are more than 200 people on board the Louise Michel, including 10 crew members, with dozens of migrants suffering from fuels burns and dehydration after days at sea

There are more than 200 people on board the Louise Michel, including 10 crew members, with dozens of migrants suffering from fuels burns and dehydration after days at sea

In a tweet accompanying a video of the migrants on the vessel, the operators yesterday said: ‘They are survivors you are turning your back on EU. After escaping untold horror and inhumanity they need a place of safety.’

But Alp Mehmet, chairman of campaign group Migration Watch, said: ‘Although Banksy may think what he is doing is helping, his actions are only serving to encourage this evil trade of migrant trafficking. 

‘These people only care about making money and profit from others’ misery. 

‘By launching this search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, traffickers will be able to convince more migrants to attempt the perilous crossing.’

On Wednesday, 45 people – including five children – died when the engine on their boat exploded off the coast of Libya. Official data shows that more than 19,500 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean from Africa to either Italy or Malta this year.

Pictured: A group of migrants wearing protective clothing waiting to be transfered by the minibus from the port to the Lampedusa after disembarking from the ship

Pictured: A group of migrants wearing protective clothing waiting to be transfered by the minibus from the port to the Lampedusa after disembarking from the ship

A Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea with a dead migrant onboard after becoming too overcrowded to sail safely

A Banksy-funded refugee rescue boat is stranded in the Mediterranean Sea with a dead migrant onboard after becoming too overcrowded to sail safely

Although Banksy has not said how much he has paid towards the vessel, the Louise Michel is believed to have cost £860,000. Last night, the United Nations also weighed into the furore by saying it was concerned about the lack of dedicated EU-led search and rescue efforts.

In a statement, the UN High Commission for Refugees said: ‘The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalised or stigmatised, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts.’

The Louise Michel set off in secrecy on August 18 from the Spanish port of Burriana, near Valencia. Banksy remained silent about the crisis in the Med last night, but earlier issued a video on his Instagram page, where he told his 10 million followers: ‘Like most people who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med. It’s a French navy vessel we converted into a lifeboat, because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans.’

Banksy, who hides his real identity, is believed to have asked a controversial German sea pilot and human rights activist called Pia Klemp for help. Her company Sea-Watch has provided the all-vegan ten-man crew for the vessel, which sailed under the German flag.

Sea-Watch rescued more than 1,000 migrants in the Med last year, which has angered the Italian Government. Italian authorities have charged Ms Klemp in absentia with aiding illegal immigration.

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