At least 21 Chinese cockle pickers perished in rising tides in Morecambe Bay because of the gross negligence of their gangmaster, a court has heard.
Twenty-three cockle pickers may have died in February 2004
The cocklers, all illegal immigrants, drowned because Lin Liang Ren completely failed to look after them, Preston Crown Court was told on Monday.
The victims were part of a team caught by the incoming tide off Hest Bank on 5 February 2004.
Lin Liang Ren, 29, from Liverpool, denies 21 counts of manslaughter.
He also denies perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration.
Lin Liang Ren's girlfriend, Zhao Xiao Qing, 20, from Liverpool, denies perverting the course of justice and facilitating illegal immigration.
Lin Mu Yong, 31, from Liverpool, a cousin of Lin Liang Ren, denies an immigration offence.
Father and son David Anthony Eden snr, 62, from Irby, Merseyside, and David Anthony Eden jnr, 34, from Prenton, Merseyside, also deny immigration charges.
Tim Holroyde QC, prosecuting, told the jury that some of the people collecting the shellfish had managed to swim to safety or been rescued, but at least 21 had drowned.
A further two cocklers are thought to have been swept to their deaths, but their bodies have not been found.
The jury heard that on the night of the drownings, Lin Liang Ren's gang was working in the dark, the wind and the rain.
'Had been warned'
Mr Holroyde told the jury Lin Liang Ren had been warned of the dangers in the Warton sands area of Morecambe Bay, where the workers were cut off.
"He was the gangmaster controlling the cockle pickers, he was responsible for them and he had completely failed to take proper care for their safety as they worked in the cold and dark," he said.
Mr Holroyde told the jury Lin Liang Ren tried to cover up his actions, along with his girlfriend.
He instructed survivors to say that the men in charge had been Lin Li Shui and Tian Long, both of whom had drowned and so were not able to contradict him, said Mr Holroyde.
The court heard that the Chinese workers were illegal immigrants and were helped to stay in the UK by all five defendants.
The court heard the Edens ran a company called Liverpool Bay Fishing Company Ltd, which bought cockles for onward sale in England and abroad.
Mr Holroyde said they had been buying cockles from Lin Liang Ren and were to buy those collected on the night of the drownings.
"We say the Edens knew full well that the Chinese cockle pickers were illegal immigrants, and were helping those workers to remain in this country by buying the cockles which they had picked," he told the court.
The trial, which is due to last between four and six months, continues.