Morecambe Bay cockling disaster

Coordinates: 54°6′25″N 2°49′30″W / 54.10694°N 2.82500°W / 54.10694; -2.82500
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Morecambe Bay cockling disaster
Date5 February 2004
LocationMorecambe Bay, England
Coordinates54°6′25″N 2°49′30″W / 54.10694°N 2.82500°W / 54.10694; -2.82500
Outcome21 bodies and a skull[1] recovered, 15 survivors
ConvictedLin 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.[2]

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.[3][4] 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.[3] 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.[2] 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.[5]

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.[6][2] An extensive search and rescue operation was launched.[2] 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.[7] Most were previously employed as farmers, and two were fishermen.[7] All the bodies were found between the cockling area and shore, indicating that most had attempted to swim but had been overcome by hypothermia.[8] Four died after the truck they used to reach the cockling area became overwhelmed by water.[9] A further two were believed to have been with those drowned, with remains of one found in 2010.[10][1]

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.[9] 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.[5]


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).[8] 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).[12] 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.[12]


The 2006 film Ghosts, directed by Nick Broomfield, is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the disaster.[13][14]

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.[15]

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.[16][17]

In 2010, artist Isaac Julien released his film Ten Thousand Waves about the disaster.[18]

The 2007 folk song "On Morecambe Bay" by folk artist Kevin Littlewood tells the story of the events.[19] This song was later covered by folk musician Christy Moore.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Skull found in Morecambe Bay 'belongs to cockle-picker'". BBC News. 18 October 2010. Archived from the original on 20 October 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Boyle, Joe (24 March 2006). "Death in a cold, strange land". BBC News. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "Cockle pickers were swimming the wrong direction". Westmorland Gazette. 14 October 2005. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Man Convicted in Shellfish Pickers' Deaths". AP NEWS. 25 March 2006. Archived from the original on 8 August 2022. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Victims of the sands and the snakeheads". The Guardian. 7 February 2004. Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Cockle jury played distress call". BBC News. 21 October 2005. Archived from the original on 21 December 2005. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Ghosts — The Morecambe Victims Fund". Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
  8. ^ a b "Man guilty of 21 cockling deaths". BBC News. 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  9. ^ a b Fickling, David (20 September 2005). "Cockler deaths jury shown film of survivor's rescue". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 29 August 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  10. ^ "Gangmasters 'continue to exploit'". BBC News. 31 July 2009. Archived from the original on 14 August 2022. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  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. ^ a b "Cockler gangmaster gets 14 years". BBC News. 28 March 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 28 March 2006.
  13. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (12 January 2007). "Ghosts". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  14. ^ Donaldson, Brian (9 April 2007). "Ghosts". The List. Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Death in the Bay Video Recording". Vimeo. 27 March 2019. Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Memento". Ed Pien. Archived from the original on 7 May 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Exhibition: 'Memento', Ed Pien, 24 April - 4 July 2009". Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. Archived from the original on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  18. ^ Draper, Joel (10 June 2010). "Isaac Julien: Ten Thousand Waves". Concrete Playground. Archived from the original on 7 October 2023. Retrieved 13 March 2022.
  19. ^ "Bay tragedy is set in song". Lancaster Guardian. 6 September 2007. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  20. ^ Clayton-Lea, Tony (28 October 2011). "Christy Moore. Folk Tale. Sony". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.

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