#Staying the Course
The Banksy Rescue Captain

Pia Klemp and the crew of the M.V.Louise Michelle

She is 30 meters long and capable of over 28 knots, agile, wears pink and white, runs in a flat hierarchy and is a vegan. She flies a German flag and has a tattoo: a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy. The M.V. Louise Michel. Smaller but considerably faster than other NGO rescue vessels. 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 first time I´ve heard the name Pia Klemp was back in the summer of 2017, since her ship, the Iuventa was impounded, and the government has moved to ban her from sailing around the Italian coast. Nevertheless, she kept the willingness to keep rescuing lives. In early November 2017 she was responsible for the firstfour rescue missions of Sea-Watch 3 near the Libyan coast, after the ship was taken over by the German Sea-Watch organization.

I kept hearing her name and her story, since I myself was also, in another front, working with refugees. Pia Klemp and I are the same age, and looking at her biography, in some way, makes me have the feeling that I should have done, by this age, more than I have. Together with her marine biology activism, all the work she has done to protect sea animals and our environment, I was impressed with her decision to begin rescuing lives in the mediterranean.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised after I read the news about Banksy calling her and the invitation to command the NGO vessel Louise Michel, which departed for its first mission in late August 2020.  “I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight” she said in a report of The Guardian.

According to The Guardian, Pia Klemp initially thought Banksy’s offer was a joke. “I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” he wrote in an email. “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?” This was a new beginning for the M.V Louise Michel. A vessel renamed after the 19th century French feminist anarchist.

The crew of the ‘Louise Michel’, claims its project as anti-fascist and feminist. They all have diverse backgrounds, but identify themselves as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists who advocate radical political change. All of them European activists with long experience in search and rescue operations who have already participated in other missions in the Mediterranean. Who have left their comfort zone and decided to risk their lives in order to save others. A crew sticking their necks out, like Giraffes.

After first getting in touch with them. It was clear, they are not looking for any recognition. “Thank you very much for the kind nomination”, wrote Leona, a female crew member. Nevertheless we really don’t want to see ourselves/the crew as heroes or anything like that. We really don’t think it needs another light shone on white people. Instead we want to stand in solidarity with people on the move and do not speak up for them”. What a display of modesty, altruism and humanitarianism!

(…)Thank you for your clear statement which I appreciate and understand, I wrote back. I’m a black guy living in a white world. Im also a black guy who had worked with refugees in a German white school. So, I totally understand you don’t want to see yourselves as heroes. My idea of nominating Pia Klemp and the Crew as a Giraffe Hero, a Giraffe like the Foundation actually call the commended personalities, not as a Hero, was not to shine more light on white people. It was because of the amazing work you as crew are doing, because of the huge amount of solidarity you have demonstrated, that I thought on nominating not only Pia Klemp but the whole crew as Giraffes – as inspirational source for people to take action, stand up and join hands, for the common good, rather than white supremacy.

By nominating the Crew as Giraffes, I´m just aiming for the Giraffe Heroes Foundation and also for myself to take an active role in the fight against situations that violate fundamental rights, such as racism, and joining movements for global respect, such as actions for climate justice. Why? Because you are sailing the Mediterranean to save migrants who take to the water in search of a better future. Because in the vessel, you are responding to the distress calls of all those who find themselves adrift. And this kind of work, these kinds of stories, should be told and talked about.

“Defending maritime law and rescuing anyone in distress without prejudice. On board the Louise Michel we believe that we are all individuals, nationality should not make a difference to the rights we have and the way we treat each other,” reads the mission statement of the ship and its crew. And trust me, that’s the kind of mission we at the foundation want to support. (…)

With my best regards and admiration to all of you (…)

290 people died last year at the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. More than 20 000 reached European countries. Many of them were on board the M. V. Louise Michel. The Vessel is currently unable to leave port. Their registration was cancelled in 2020 as part of growing restrictions imposed on civil rescue ships by European governments. But the Crew is still working on a solution to get back to saving lives as soon as possible.

Yampier Aguiar Durañona. Hamburg, 2021

(photo credit: Bored Panda)