|Date||5 February 2004|
|Location||Morecambe Bay, England|
|Outcome||21 bodies and a skull recovered, 15 survivors|
|Convicted||Lin Liang Ren|
On the evening of 5 February 2004, at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrants were drowned by an incoming tide at Morecambe Bay in North West England, while harvesting cockles off the Lancashire coast. Fifteen other labourers from the same group managed to return safely to shore.
During the investigation and trial, it emerged that the labourers were inexperienced, spoke little or no English and were unfamiliar with the area. The Chinese gangmaster who organised the trip and two associates of his were found guilty of manslaughter, of breaking immigration laws and other crimes, and were sentenced to several years in prison.
David Anthony Eden Sr. and David Anthony Eden Jr., a father and son from England, had allegedly arranged to pay a group of Chinese workers £5 per 25 kg (9p per lb) of cockles. The workers 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. Some 30 cockle pickers set out at 4 pm. The favoured area for cockle picking is close to the low tide line near the confluence of the Keer Channel and the Kent Channel, approximately 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) north of Morecambe. 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 workers were all illegal immigrants, mainly from the Fujian province of China, and have been described as being untrained and inexperienced.
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. An extensive search and rescue operation was launched. Twenty-one bodies, of people between the ages of 18 and 45, were recovered from the bay. Two of the victims were women; the rest were mostly young men in their 20s and 30s, with two over 40 and one, a male, under 20. Most 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 died after the truck they used to reach the cockling area became overwhelmed by water. A further two were believed to have been with those drowned, with remains of one found in 2010.
At the 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.
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). Lin, his girlfriend Zhao Xiao Qing and his cousin Lin Mu Yong were also convicted of breaking immigration laws. Lin Liang 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.
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.
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