Chinese cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay remembered 20 years on

The Chinese victims of the Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy are being remembered at a service of remembrance 20 years on. 

Some 23 Chinese men and women drowned when rising tides cut them off from the shore on the evening of 5 February 2004.

They were all victims of slave labour and had been illegally trafficked into the country from Fujian Province in southeastern China in search of a better life. 

Two years after the tragedy, their gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was jailed for 14 years for manslaughter.

The service of remembrance will be held on Monday evening at the Cocklers' Memorial beside the Morecambe Bay RNLI station.

It will be led by the Bishop of Blackburn, Philip North, and the rector of Morecambe Parish Church, Chris Krawiec. 

Bishop North said: "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 Krawiec 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 order of service expresses "deep sadness" over the deaths and adds, "We also long for the day when vulnerable people will not be targeted, groomed and humiliated."

The names of the victims will be read out at the service and those attending 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 Mayor, Councillor Roger Dennison, said: "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."