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2nd February 2024

Victims of Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy remembered at civic vigil and service

‘Tonight we remember in deep sadness those 23 Chinese men and women. We also long for the day when vulnerable people will not be targeted, groomed and humiliated.’

(Words in italics above are taken from the Order of Service)

A civic service of vigil and remembrance for the 20th anniversary of the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in 2004 will be held in Morecambe this Monday, February 5.

Starting at 6pm, the service at the Cocklers’ Memorial next to the RNLI station (LA4 5BY) will be led by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Rev. Philip North, and the Rector of Morecambe Parish Church, Rev. Chris Krawiec.

Also in attendance on Monday evening will be Mr Kim Leong, Chairman of Lancaster and Morecambe Bay Chinese Community Association; The Right Worshipful, the Mayor of Lancaster, Councillor Roger Dennison, alongside representatives of the RNLI; the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services and other civic dignitaries.

It was around 9.30pm on the evening of February 5, 2004 when the group of Chinese cockle pickers, who set off from the shore at 4pm that day, were cut off by the incoming tide.

The group was cockle picking close to the low tide line near the confluence of the Keer Channel and the Kent Channel, approximately 3.5 kilometres north of Morecambe centre.

Fifteen of the group returned safely to shore but, despite an extensive search and rescue operation, 23 others drowned.

The inexperienced Chinese workers were originally from the Fujian province of China and they had been trafficked via containers into Liverpool and were hired out through local criminal agents of international Chinese triads. A survivor testified that the leader of the group had made a mistake about the time of the tides.

Monday’s service will include a reading, by Mr Kim Leong, of the names of all those who were lost 20 years ago.

A silent vigil will be held, and those present will also be invited to join in hymns and prayers, and will be offered a cockle shell to take away as a permanent reminder of the ongoing fight against modern slavery and of those who died that day.

The Church of England in Lancashire (Blackburn Diocese) is a keen supporter of work to eradicate modern slavery and is a founder member The Clewer Initiative, a national network enabling Church of England dioceses develop strategies to detect modern slavery in their communities and help provide victim help and care. The Diocese is also part of the Pan-Lancashire Anti-Slavery Partnership (PLASP).

Bishop Philip said today: “This will be a solemn moment for the community in Morecambe as we join together to remember the innocent lives lost to greed and slavery in the waters of Morecambe Bay.

“We mourn with and pray for the families and loved ones of our Chinese brothers and sisters who died 20 years ago and for an end to the curse of modern slavery.”

Rev. Chris added: “At times like these it’s important to come together as a community, itself made up of different communities, to acknowledge and remember.

“As we do so we also consider how, 20 years on, trafficking and modern slavery remains huge problem and we continue to call for change and action to bring the scourge of modern slavery to an end.”

The Mayor, Councillor Roger Dennison, also commented: “Our thoughts at this sad time are with the families of those who died in this terrible incident 20 years ago and also all others who have lost their lives over the years in Morecambe Bay. The tragedy was a stark reminder of the dangers posed by its treacherous tides.

"It's also a time to thank all those who bravely put their own lives at risk in the rescue operation, particularly the unpaid volunteers of the RNLI."

Additional words by Mark Ashley.

Captions for above pictures, top to bottom:

The front of the Order of Service for the vigil on Monday in Morecambe 

The reflective image from the front of the vigil Order of Service 



Ronnie Semley: February 2024