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23 Chinese stranded off English coast
Updated: 2004-02-06 10:01

Twenty-three people, thought to be Chinese, were left stranded and in danger of drowning after being cut off by rising tides while collecting shellfish on mudflats off the northwest coast of England, the British coastguard and defence ministry said.

"There are 23 people cut off on a sandbank at Morecambe. We have picked one up -- he was Chinese," a coastguard spokesman said, confirming that a major rescue operation was underway.

Two Royal Air Force (RAF) search and rescue helicopters were at the scene at Hest Bank on the Lancashire coast, the Ministry of Defence said, adding that the 22 people remaining on the sandbank faced "serious risk of drowning".

The group were all believed to be Chinese and were thought to have been out collecting cockles when they became trapped, possibly by mud, a defence ministry spokeswoman said.

The man rescued, who couldn't speak any English, was taken to the Royal Lancashire Hospital suffering from hypothermia.

The defence ministry spokeswoman said an interpreter was thought to have been sent to the scene to assist the rescue operation.

Ric Phillips from RAF Kinloss, which has been involved in the rescue attempt, said: "There were 23 Chinese people who we understand were actually cockling at a place called Hest Bank, that's about one and a half miles off shore in Morecambe Bay, when they were cut off by the tide."

He told Sky News that the trapped people did not speak English, which he said was proving a problem for the rescue teams.

Phillips said the weather was not too difficult for the rescue but the darkness was causing a problem.

"The problem is that it's dark and we're searching for these people.

"Obviously, the tide went fairly rapidly from waist level on these people up to their necks.

"They're now floating around so the difficulty is going to be locating them in the dark," Phillips said.

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