View Full Version : Always check the tide!!!

08-02-2004, 02:39 PM
19 cockle pickers killed by tide
From correspondents in Morecambe, England
February 7, 2004

NINETEEN people thought to be Chinese illegal workers died when they were caught by racing tides while digging for shellfish on treacherous mud flats off the north-west coast of England, police said.

It was believed the victims drowned in freezing seas after becoming stranded as they searched for cockles in Morecambe Bay, notorious for its swift-rising tides. Locals said that the shoreline is treacherous for anyone unfamiliar with the area.

"It was waiting to happen. People just weren't expecting it on this scale," said Alan Sledmore, 55, a guide who takes visitors across the rich cockle beds of the bay.

"The tides here come in faster than a man can run," Sledmore said.

"It's a beautiful area but it's dangerous if you don't know what you are doing."

The Home Office said the victims, mostly in their teens and 20s, had been brought to Britain illegally by a "ruthless" people-trafficking network to work on the dangerous shores.

According to newspaper reports, they were being paid around STG8 ($19) for nine hours of labour.

Local police were investigating whether so-called "snakehead" people-smuggling gangs were responsible for bringing the cockle-gatherers to Britain and forcing them to work illegally, the BBC reported.

Rescuers launched a massive hunt using helicopters and lifeboats after a group of workers was reported missing early yesterday.

Emergency services said 16 survivors, including 14 Chinese and two Europeans, were found.

The bodies of the dead, 17 men and two women, were taken to a coastguard station in the coastal town of Morecambe.

The survivors were being questioned, with the help of Cantonese and Mandarin translators, said local police.

Identified as Chinese nationals, nine had previously filed for asylum with immigration authorities. Four of the others requested political asylum yesterday.

Home Office minister Beverly Hughes said the deaths underlined the dangers for people who are smuggled into Britain by "highly organised criminal elements".

She told the BBC that the Morecambe Bay victims were transported into Britain by "the ruthless gangs, snakeheads and so on who operate globally and transport people for labour exploitation".

Similar Chinese gangs were blamed when the suffocated bodies of 58 Chinese would-be immigrants were found in the back of a lorry at the southern English port of Dover in June 2000.

Local hovercraft commander Harry Roberts, 45, said the Morecambe incident was "the worst tragedy I have come across in my time" as a rescuer.

"It was very distressing. They didn't have any safety gear and some of them were naked because they had taken their clothes off to help them swim."

Roberts added: "The water was not much above freezing, the wind was blowing a force six, and the water had been moving at four to five knots.

"I would guess after half an hour in those conditions you would be in big trouble."

Lancashire police Chief Constable Paul Stephenson said that in addition to language problems "there is the problem of fear because some of these people are fearful of the emergency services and the authorities".

"Some of the people do not want to be found which is making it very difficult," he said.

In August last year, police arrested 37 Chinese people in Morecambe after concerns were raised about the scale of cockle picking in the area.

Looking for the shellfish is not illegal in the area, but local people have demanded that gangs doing it should be regulated and licensed.

Geraldine Smith, the parliamentary deputy for the area, said: "It was a tragedy waiting to happen.

"You can't stop people turning up and going on the beach at eight o'clock on a dark winter's night."

Smith added: "The cockles which were on the beach were worth a great deal of money, but very tragically I would imagine that those poor people who lost their lives were making very little of that money, and were probably victims of exploitation."