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Police seek labour agents behind drowning
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-09 08:02

LONDON: British police raided a number of homes across northwest England on Saturday in search of labour agents who were behind the 19 immigrants who drowned picking shellfish at Morecambe bay.

Only 16 people - two white Europeans and 14 Chinese - survived after the group was caught in fast-rising tides in the dangerous bay on Thursday night.

It is believed the group included low-paid immigrant workers controlled by unscrupulous profiteers, officials said.

It is not immediately known if anyone was arrested. But Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell at Lancashire Police said he was following good leads in Merseyside in northwestern England, where officers believe the so-called "cockle pickers" came from.

Cockles are tiny shellfish sold as a delicacy.

"It does appear that gangmasters were involved in arranging this cockle picking," Gradwell said.

"We expect to make arrests within days rather than months," he added, noting that a number of gang members' names had been provided to police and were being checked out.

A police statement said: "Lancashire police officers working with their colleagues from Merseyside have made a number of visits to addresses in and around Liverpool.

"The purpose of this is really to follow up on intelligence they have gleaned during the course of the operation," the statement said.

Police and immigration officers have begun interviewing some of the survivors, who are under the care of social services, through interpreters.

They are also trying to identify the bodies and contact next of kin with the help of the Chinese Embassy, the Coroner's Office and Lancashire County Council.

A Lancashire police spokesman confirmed that officers have given up hope of finding any more survivors and the searches continuing at sea were now more about "recovery than survivors."

In fact, people could not have survived more than about 30 minutes in the cold waters off the bay, an official told the British Broadcasting Corporation in a report.

The Chinese were also likely not aware of the dangers they faced.

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