New rescue of cockle pickers raises fears of another tragedy

Latest incident is 16th time the coastguard has been called out to the Ribble estuary in six weeks

Fears have been raised of a repeat of the Morecambe Bay tragedy after a spate of incidents involving cockle pickers working in dangerous conditions at sea.

The coastguard has been called to rescue cockle pickers 16 times in Lancashire's Ribble estuary since the cockle beds there opened six weeks ago.

A major rescue operation involving two helicopters and two lifeboats was carried out on Monday after a group of ten cocklers got into difficulties.

In another rescue on Wednesday, five cocklers were helped by Lytham lifeboat after the engine failed on their boat.

The spate of incidents has led to calls for emergency controls to avoid a repeat of the disaster in 2004, when 23 Chinese cockle pickers working for criminal gangmasters drowned in Morecambe Bay, only 30 miles up the coast from the Ribble.

Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde, said: "We are at crisis point, every few days people are having to be rescued. I fear we could see another tragedy. I find it incredible that in 2011 we are seriously talking about large numbers of people having to be rescued."

Mr Menzies is to meet Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, to discuss the issue.

Stephen Atkins, chairman of the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Board, said: "With earnings of £1,000 a day on a good day, you can see why people will take risks. It was only sheer good fortune that they all got back. This is a disaster waiting to happen."

The cockle beds in the Ribble estuary opened at the beginning of September, having been closed for 20 years to allow cockle stocks to replenish.

Hundreds have flocked to the site every day hoping to cash in on an abundance of the "shells of gold", which sell for more than £1,200 a tonne.

Among the fisherman heading out each day are a large number of unlicensed and inexperienced migrant workers who risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels.

Most of those who have been rescued have been of Eastern Europe origin, according to Helen Stuart, a spokeswoman for Lytham RNLI.

"Some of them admitted they had never been out on the sea before. They have a total lack of experience. Many of them have no clue at all." she said.

"Officially you need a permit, but I would say there are a lot of people out there without one."

Police are at the site every day in an effort to crack down on unlicensed cockle picking, but many of those without a permit are selling their harvest out at sea to avoid being caught.

After the tragedy at Morecambe Bay, new laws were introduced to license the industry. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has powers to investigate and bring to the courts those who break the law and endanger others.

The watchdog has announced it will investigate the latest spate of incidents to determine whether gangmasters were involved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones