Banksy-funded rescue boat already saving refugees in Mediterranean

British street artist Banksy has funded a refugee rescue boat that is already helping to save people encountering danger in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Louise Michel, a former French navy vessel, launched under its new guise last week and features a painting from Banksy depicting a young girl holding on to a heart-shaped safety float.

The boat was renamed after a 19th-century French anarchist, and is spattered in pink paint after the secretive artist "decorated her with a fire extinguisher".

It was bought with the proceeds of some of Banksy's works and is captained by a professional crew with a "flat hierarchy and a vegan diet".

The Guardian reports that Banksy first made contact with Pia Klemp, an experienced captain of a number NGO boats, in September asking to help.

The vessel has already carried out a number of rescue missions, taking on board 89 people from a rubber boat on Tuesday after receiving a distress call, according to its Twitter account.

The project aims to help fill a void left by European authorities, who the organisers say are "leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea".

According to UN data, 443 people have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean from north Africa so far in 2020.

Just over 40,000 have arrived in Europe by sea during the same period.

The Louise Michel's mission statement is "to uphold maritime law and rescue anyone in peril without prejudice".

"We on board the Louise Michel believe we are all individuals, nationality should not make a difference to what rights one has and how we treat each other," it says on its website.

"We answer the SOS call of all those in distress, not just to save their souls – but our own."

Banksy's representatives have been contacted for comment.