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Tides swallow 15 Chinese in England
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-06 23:07

Fifteen bodies of Chinese shellfish hunters have been found after being trapped on Thursday night by rising tides in Morecombe Bay in northwestern England, British police said on Friday.

Several others are still missing at the bay, a notoriously dangerous area known for its fast rising tides and shifting sands.

Nets and other unidentified objects lie abandoned on a beach near the scene of a mass drowning at Morecambe Bay.

At least a dozen members of the group have been rescued or walked ashore themselves, Xinhua reported.

Police said neither of the Chinese speak English, and their identities are still unknown.

Two survivors were seen apparently being pulled alive from the water. And, earlier, at least 10 managed to struggle ashore safely, three of them taken to hospital and at least four to Lancaster police station, according to Xinhua.

It is not known if any of the missing people have made it to land or if they have been swept out to sea. Lifeboats are still searching the area.

It is said that the group set out to go searching for cockles -- very small shellfish -- about 23:00 pm (Beijing time) on Thursday, but the tide came in and they became trapped on large mud flaps exposed by the water.

Royal Air Force, the local coast guards and police have been searching the water overnight, while mountain rescue teams have been searching the coast using dogs.

Andy Binstead, of the Bowland Pennine mountain rescue, said the teams were deeply distressed to have found the bodies.

"It's awful. It's one of the things we always hope we never come up with. Usually we get to people in time, or help someone out, which is what we exist for," he told a reporter with the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Local lawmaker Geraldine Smith told the BBC that "cockling'' had become "a really controversial issue" in recent weeks.

"The problem is that Morecambe Bay is a public fishery, so anyone can come and fish," she said.

The estimated value of the shellfish on Morecambe beach is 6 million pounds, which had lured people from all over Britain and beyond, she noted.

Alex Pinfield, a British Embassy spokesman, told China Daily on Friday that UK authorities are doing all they can to rescue possible survivors and to look after them.

"I feel great regret for the family members of the victims and will keep close contact with London and Chinese authorities,'' said Pinfield.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said that China has appreciated the rescue work provided by the UK and hopes the rescue operation can be continued and strengthened.

Chinese Embassy officials in London rushed to the accident site in Morecombe Bay on Friday to provide help rescue work and help the survivors and family members, embassy sources said.

The consulate has issued a statement urging Chinese abroad to pay attention to self-security and to obey local rules to help prevent accidents.

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