2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster
Date5 February 2004
LocationMorecambe Bay, England
Outcome21 bodies and a skull[1] recovered, 15 survivors
ConvictedLin Liang Ren

The Morecambe Bay cockling disaster (Chinese: 拾貝慘案 Shí bèi cǎn'àn, "cockle-picking tragedy") occurred on the evening of 5 February 2004 at Morecambe Bay in North West England, when at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrant labourers were drowned by an incoming tide after picking cockles off the Lancashire coast.[2]


David Anthony Eden, Sr., and David Anthony Eden, Jr., a father and son from England, had unlawfully hired a group of Chinese workers to pick cockles; they were to be paid £5 per 25 kg of cockles, (9p per lb), far less than the typical local rate at the time.[3] The Chinese had been trafficked via containers into Liverpool, and were hired out through local criminal agents of international Chinese Triads. The cockles to be collected are best found at low tide on sand flats at Warton Sands, near Hest Bank. The Chinese workers were unfamiliar with local geography, language, and custom. They were cut off by the incoming tide in the bay around 9:30.

The emergency services were alerted by a mobile phone call made by one of the workers, who spoke little English and was only able to say "sinking water" before the call was cut off.[4][5] Twenty-one bodies, of men and women between the ages of 18 and 45, were recovered from the bay after the incident. Two of the victims were women; the vast majority were young men in their 20s and 30s, with only two being over 40 and only one, a male, under 20.[6] Most of the victims were previously employed as farmers, and two were fishermen.[6] All the bodies were found between the cockling area and shore, indicating that most had attempted to swim but had been overcome by hypothermia.[7] Four of the victims died after the truck they used to reach the cockling area became overwhelmed by water.[8] A further two cocklers were believed to have been with those drowned, with remains of one being found in 2010.[9][1]

At the subsequent hearing, British cocklers returning to shore on the same evening were reported to have attempted to warn the Chinese group by tapping their watches and trying to speak with them.[8] A survivor testified that the leader of the group had made a mistake about the time of the tides.[3] Fourteen other members of the group are reported to have made it safely to the shore, making 15 survivors in total. The workers were all illegal immigrants, mainly from the Fujian province of China, and have been described as being untrained and inexperienced.[10]


Praying Shell, a 2013 sculpture by Anthony Padgett located near Red Bank Farm, on the edge of Morecambe Bay

David Anthony Eden, Sr., and David Anthony Eden, Jr., from Prenton, Merseyside, who bought cockles from the work gang, were cleared of helping the workers break immigration law.[11]

Gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was found guilty of the manslaughter of at least 21 people (two further cocklers were thought to have been killed, but their bodies were never found).[12] Ren, his girlfriend Zhao Xiao Qing and his cousin Lin Mu Yong were also convicted of breaking immigration laws. Ren was sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter, 6 years for facilitating illegal immigration (to be served concurrently with the manslaughter sentence), and 2 years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (to be served subsequent to the manslaughter sentence).[13] Lin Mu Yong was sentenced to four years and nine months. Zhao Xiao Qing was sentenced to 2 years and 9 months for facilitation of illegal immigration and perverting the course of justice.[13]


The 2006 film Ghosts, directed by Nick Broomfield, is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the disaster.[14][15]

A 2006 documentary Death in the Bay: the Cocklepickers' Story, was commissioned by Channel 4 as part of The Other Side from local filmmaker Loren Slater, who was one of the first people on the scene.[16]

In 2009, Ed Pien's work Memento, commissioned by the Chinese Arts Centre, was developed in response to the plight of illegal immigrants, especially those who died at Morecambe Bay.[17][18]

In 2013, artist Isaac Julien released his film Ten Thousand Waves about the disaster.[19]

The 2007 folk song "On Morecambe Bay" by folk artist Kevin Littlewood tells the story of the events.[20] This song was later covered by folk musician Christy Moore.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Skull found in Morecambe Bay 'belongs to cockle-picker'". BBC News. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  2. ^ Joe Boyle (24 March 2006). "Death in a cold, strange land". BBC. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Cockle pickers were swimming the wrong direction". Westmorland Gazette. 14 October 2005. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Cockle jury played distress call". BBC News. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  5. ^ Boyle, Joe (24 March 2006). "Death in a cold, strange land". BBC News. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Ghosts — The Morecambe Victims Fund". Ghosts.uk.com. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  7. ^ "Man guilty of 21 cockling deaths". BBC News. 24 March 2006. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  8. ^ a b Fickling, David (20 September 2005). "Cockler deaths jury shown film of survivor's rescue". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  9. ^ "Gangmasters 'continue to exploit'". BBC News. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  10. ^ "Victims of the sands and the snakeheads". The Guardian. 7 February 2004.
  11. ^ Cocklers tragedy highlights need for high safety standards Archived 20 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine HSE press release, 24 March 2006, accessed 19 October 2010
  12. ^ "Man guilty of 21 cockling deaths". BBC News. 24 March 2006.
  13. ^ a b "Cockler gangmaster gets 14 years". BBC News. 28 March 2006.
  14. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (12 January 2007). "Ghosts". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  15. ^ Donaldson, Brian (9 April 2007). "Ghosts". The List. Edinburgh. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  16. ^ "Death in the Bay Video Recording". Vimeo.
  17. ^ "Memento". Ed Pien. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Exhibition: 'Memento', Ed Pien, 24 April - 4 July 2009". Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  19. ^ Simon Armstrong (25 November 2013). "From Morecambe to MoMA: New York showing for Ten Thousand Waves". BBC News. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  20. ^ "Bay tragedy is set in song". Lancaster Guardian. 6 September 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  21. ^ Clayton-Lea, Tony (28 October 2011). "Christy Moore. Folk Tale. Sony". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 February 2019.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°6′25″N 2°49′30″W / 54.10694°N 2.82500°W / 54.10694; -2.82500