2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster

2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster
Location Morecambe Bay, England
Cause of Death Drowning
Fatalities 23 (21 bodies recovered)
Survivors 15
Perpetrator Lin Liangren

The Morecambe Bay cockling disaster occurred on the evening of 5 February 2004 at Morecambe Bay in North West England, when at least 21 cockle pickers were drowned by an incoming tide off the Lancashire/Cumbrian coast.

A group of Chinese workers, who were collecting cockles (edible marine bivalves) at low tide on sand flats at Warton Sands, near Hest Bank, and who were to have been paid £5 per 25 kg of cockles,[1] were cut off by the incoming tide in the bay at around 9:30 pm.

Although the emergency services were alerted by a mobile phone call made by one of the workers, only one of the workers was rescued from the waters. This was partly because the phone call was unclear both to the extent and severity of the danger, and to their location, presumably through a lack of English language ability.[2] A total of 21 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.[3] Most of the victims were previously employed as farmers, and two were fishermen.[3] All of the bodies of the victims were found, at a variety of trajectories, at nine locations between the cockling area and shore indicating that the majority had attempted to swim but had been overcome partly, or largely, by hypothermia.[4] Four of the victims died after the truck they used to reach the cockling area became overwhelmed by water.[5] A further two cocklers were believed to have been with those drowned, with remains of one being found in 2010.[6][7]

At the subsequent hearing it was reported that British cocklers returning to shore on the same evening had attempted to warn the Chinese group by tapping their watches and trying to speak with them.[5] A survivor testified that the leader of the group had made a mistake about the time of the tides.[1] 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.

David Anthony Eden senior and David Anthony Eden junior, from Prenton in Merseyside, who bought cockles from the work gang, were cleared of helping the workers break immigration law.[8]


The 2006 film Ghosts, directed by Nick Broomfield, is a dramatisation of the events leading up to the tragedy.


  1. ^ a b "Cockle pickers were swimming the wrong direction (From The Westmorland Gazette)". Thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk. http://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/news/640835.cockles_pickers_were_swimming_the_wrong_direction/. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  2. ^ "Cockle jury played distress call". BBC News. 21 October 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/4364586.stm. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Ghosts — The Morecambe Victims Fund". Ghosts.uk.com. http://www.ghosts.uk.com/victims.html. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  4. ^ "Man guilty of 21 cockling deaths". BBC News. 24 March 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/4832454.stm. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Fickling, David (20 September 2005). "Cockler deaths jury shown film of survivor's rescue". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/sep/20/ukcrime.immigration. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "Gangmasters 'continue to exploit'". BBC News. 31 July 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8177468.stm. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  7. ^ "Skull found in Morecambe Bay 'belongs to cockle-picker'". BBC News. 18 October 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-11570504. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  8. ^ Cocklers tragedy highlights need for high safety standards HSE press release, 24 March 2006, accessed 19 October 2010

54°6′25″N 2°49′30″W / 54.10694°N 2.825°W / 54.10694; -2.825Coordinates: 54°6′25″N 2°49′30″W / 54.10694°N 2.825°W / 54.10694; -2.825

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