Banksy's migrant rescue ship seized by Italy's coast guard in Lampedusa

FILE PHOTO: The MV Louise Michel, a migrants search and rescue ship operating in the Mediterranean sea and financed by British street artist Banksy, is seen at sea, August 29, 2020. Picture taken August, 29, 2020. Chris Grodotzki/ Handout via REUTERS

MILAN (Reuters) - A rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy was seized in Lampedusa on Sunday after Italy's coast guard said the boat had disobeyed its instructions to head to Sicily after carrying out a migrant rescue operation.

The coast guard said it had ordered the MV Louise Michel ship to dock in Trapani in Sicily after it performed an initial rescue operation in Libya's Search And Rescue area. The ship instead went to assist migrants on three other boats in Malta's Search And Rescue area.

The coast guard added that it was already on its way to assist the three other boats at the time.

It ordered the Louise Michel to dock in accordance with a new law passed in Italy this year establishing a code of conduct for migrant charity ships, the coast guard said.

The 30-metre long, pink and white Louise Michel, named after a French feminist anarchist, eventually docked in Lampedusa late on Saturday with 178 migrants on board.

The coast guard said it wanted to prevent the ship from taking too many people on board, thereby putting their safety at risk. Local authorities on Lampedusa said their reception facilities are now full.

The coast guard said that in the last 48 hours it had coordinated rescue operations for 58 boats, helping a total of more than 3,300 people.

The NGO Louise Michel said on its Twitter account that it was told that its ship was being seized due to a violation of the new Italian legislation and that it was ready to fight against the decision.

"We know of dozens of boats in distress right in front of the island at this very moment, yet we are being prevented from assisting. This is unacceptable!" it said.

In the latest of a string of fatal incidents in recent days, at least 29 migrants died when their two boats sank off the coast of Tunisia as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the Tunisian coast guard said on Sunday.

(Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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