2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster
|Date||5 February 2004|
|Location||Morecambe Bay, England|
|Outcome||21 bodies and a skull recovered, 15 survivors|
|Convicted||Lin 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.
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. The Chinese had been imported unlawfully 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 p.m.
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. 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. Most of the victims were previously employed as farmers, and two were fishermen. All the bodies were found between the cockling area and shore, indicating that most had attempted to swim but had been overcome by hypothermia. Four of the victims died after the truck they used to reach the cockling area became overwhelmed by water. A further two cocklers were believed to have been with those drowned, with remains of one being found in 2010.
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. A survivor testified that the leader of the group had made a mistake about the time of the tides. 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.
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). 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). 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.
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- BBC report, February 2004
- BBC report on inquest
- BBC report on the distress call
- BBC report on trial, January 2006
- BBC report, Lin Liang Ren found guilty
- BBC report, Cockler gangmaster gets 14 years
- Cockler survivor hates gangmaster
- Charity for the survivors
- movie website
- Ghosts on More4