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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 23:28 GMT
Cockle death survivors speak out
Cockle picker
There have been calls to protect migrant workers from danger
Two survivors of the Morecambe cockle tragedy have spoken of the moments leading up to the death of 19 people.

Gua Lin, 30, and Lin Mu Lung, 29, have been arrested and released but deny any responsibility for the group of migrant workers being swamped by the tide.

Fishing boss David Eden,arrested over the deaths, also denied any blame, claiming he is being made a scapegoat.

The government has indicated it will now regulate gangmasters of migrant labour following backbench pressure.

The chairman of a group of senior MPs criticised the government for failing to act over gangmasters who exploit migrant workers.

Not enough had been done in response to concerns in a report last September, Michael Jack, environmental, food and rural affairs committee chairman said.

Farming minister Lord Whitty earlier said the government would support a backbencher's bid for a new law.

We have got to focus not on the individual illegal workers but on the people who are employing them
John Denham
Home Office Minister

Reading a statement from Gua Lin and Lin Mu Lung, their solicitor Trevor Colebourne said: "They were part of a large group of cockle pickers who were recruited to work in the Morecambe Bay area for a pittance of a wage.

"They were given rudimentary equipment. They were untrained and blatantly unaware of the risks involved."

The pair are asylum seekers, who are now in the custody of the Immigration Service.

Mr Colebourne added: "They were required to work regardless of weather conditions and frequently after nightfall."

He said one of the survivors was on the beach on the night of the tragedy when he received a mobile phone call from one of his colleagues who was trapped in the rising tide.

The picker said they were stuck in the sand with the water rising rapidly up to their necks as the call cut off.

Tougher penalties

"Gua Lin stripped and dived into the water and tried to swim out to rescue his friends, but was unable to reach them.

"He is a strong swimmer, but risked his own life to save his colleagues."

Earlier, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee said there should be much tougher penalties for the gangmasters.

John Denham said they should face the seizure of their profits, in the way that drug dealers can have their assets confiscated.

In the wake of the deaths, there have been calls from both sides of the Commons for action to be taken to protect migrant workers who might be trapped with low wages, dangerous conditions and the threat of violence.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Each day the arguments are getting more acrimonious"

Fishing boss protests innocence
13 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
Cockle beds must close, MP urges
12 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
South China's fortune seekers
09 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Tide kills 18 cockle pickers
06 Feb 04  |  Lancashire

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