A number of local fishermen were called in by the coastguard to help with the rescue of 24 Chinese cockle pickers that were trapped by the sweeping tides. Within a few hours, 20 bodies had been recovered and only 1 man was found alive.
Morecambe Bay holds a 28-mile tide. Locals told the press that the disaster was avoidable had the cockle pickers known the geography of the area. Instead, they were unable to navigate a safe route off the cockle bed.
The workers had been imported unlawfully via shipping containers into Liverpool where they were hired out through local criminal agents of international Chinese Triads.
Rescues of large groups of stranded Chinese cockle pickers by Morecambe locals had already taken place in previous years, but rather than act as a warning to both gangmasters and authorities, the booming cockling trade meant the industry was heavily under-regulated, so workers could be easily exploited.
In May 2004, the 21st body was washed up.
Gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was found guilty of the manslaughter of at least 21 people, of breaking immigration laws and for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
Ren’s girlfriend Zhao Xiao Qing and cousin Lin Mu Yong, were both found guilty of facilitating illegal immigration and for perverting the course of justice. They were sentenced to 7 ½ years between them.
Business owners of Liverpool Bay Fishing Company Ltd. David Anthony Eden senior and David Antony Eden junior, bought the gang’s cockles for far cheaper than local rates. Both were found not guilty for helping the workers break immigration law.
The Dark Figure* is an ongoing photographic project that investigates and documents UK neighbourhoods where victims have been identified as modern-day slaves.