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18 cocklers die in quicksand

alexd

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Staff member
Tide kills 18 cockle pickers


from bbc

The accident happened after more than 30 cocklers - thought to be Chinese who do not speak English - were caught by rising waters in the Hest Bank area.

Lancashire Police said it was trying to find out if they were illegal immigrants or working for an organised gang, and appealed for information.

A spokeswoman added that criminal charges were a possibility.

The 16 men and two women who died were pulled out of the near freezing sea during a huge rescue effort by coastguards, lifeboats and the RAF overnight.

The 14 who survived have been joined by two witnesses thought to be connected to the group and are being cared for at a local emergency centre.

Some of them were naked because they had taken their clothes off to help them swim.

Police said they were of Oriental appearance and they are questioning them with the help of Chinese interpreters.

A further body had been spotted in the sea and the search was continuing on Friday afternoon.

It is thought the group set out to go cockling at about 1500 GMT on Thursday, but the tide came in and they got into difficulties. A member of the public raised the alarm at about 2120 GMT.

Some survivors were found stranded on a sandbank.

Ten of the dead, who were in their teens and 20s, were found by an RNLI hovercraft.

Its commander, Harry Roberts, 45, from Morecambe, said: "It was very distressing but we were doing the job we were trained to do. It is the worst tragedy I have come across in my time with the RNLI.

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

Morecambe Bay is notoriously dangerous, with fast rising tides and quicksands.

The incident has highlighted local concerns about the huge numbers of outsiders descending on the bay to pick cockles.

Cedric Robinson is known as the Queen's sandpilot in Morecambe Bay, and has been leading walkers across the sands for 25 years.

Survivors were suffering hypothermia-like symptoms
He said the area was treacherous for people who did not have local knowledge of the tides.

"For strangers to come into the area and go cockling, it is dangerous," he told BBC News 24.

Local MP Geraldine Smith told BBC News 24 that cockling had become "a really controversial issue" in recent weeks.

She said a meeting had been planned later in February, between various local firms and authorities, to discuss the issue.

"The problem is Morecambe Bay is a public fishery, so anyone can come and fish," she said.

She said the estimated value of the cockles on Morecambe beach was £6m, which had lured people from all over the UK and beyond.

Another group of cocklers became stranded in the same area only two months ago - they were all rescued safely.

The BBC's regional correspondent Peter Holland said: "The cockling industry has changed from a quaint Lancashire industry, maybe 20, 30 years ago, into a big money-spinning business.

"The people who get the licences are then free to hire who they want to fulfil the dirty and laborious job of digging up the cockles.

"In the past we've had stories about illegal immigrants, people who are [claiming] benefits actually working down on the sands, where there are very rich pickings of £500 a day."

It is not know whether this group of cocklers was working illegally.
 
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