18 killed in UK tide disaster
A victim's body is carried to ambulance at Morecambe Bay.
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LONDON, England -- Eighteen people have died in northern England after a group of cockle pickers were trapped by rising tides, police said.
As rescuers recovered the bodies of the victims in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, on Friday, a local lawmaker said the deaths were a "tragedy waiting to happen" because too many people were being exploited to collect the shellfish delicacy in treacherous conditions.
The rescue operation was launched on the previous night after a group of cockle pickers, said by local media to be Chinese, were reported missing.
Ten people were found overnight after finding their own way to safety, but rescuers using hovercraft began ferrying bodies to the beach.
The victims were 16 men and two women, police said.
Morecambe Bay is notoriously dangerous, with fast-rising tides and quicksands. Two years ago a man and his 9-year-old son died on the sand flats when they became disoriented in fog and trapped by the rapidly rising tide.
Air Force helicopters and lifeboats were launched on Thursday night, and a defense ministry spokeswoman later described the race to rescue the cockle pickers:
"They were out collecting cockles and appear to have become trapped, possibly by mud, and are being threatened by what is being described to me as being a fairly strong incoming tide, so they are at serious risk of drowning," she told the Press Association.
Morecambe Bay has notoriously dangerous tides and sands.
Cockle picking is not illegal but locals have complained about groups from across Britain flocking to Morecambe Bay to collect the shellfish, which are mostly sold abroad.
Morecambe and Unsaddle Labour MP Geraldine Smith said there had been concerns about unregulated fishing activities in the area for some time.
"It really is an appalling tragedy. It was a tragedy waiting to happen," she told PA.
"People were supposed to have a permit and they would turn up and give their name and address and National Insurance number. But obviously if people go on to the beach and aren't part of the permit scheme, it is virtually impossible to impose.
"The cockles which were on the beach were worth a great deal of money, but very tragically I would imagine that those poor people who lost their lives were making very little of that money, and were probably victims of exploitation."