THE death of the cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay has added to its reputation for being a deadly area for the unwary.
The bay, which boasts the largest area of inter-tidal sand and mudflats in the UK, is well-known for its treacherous sands and fast-moving incoming tides. Experts believe it was the combination of rising flood waters and ferocious incoming tide which led to the trapped cockle-pickers losing their lives.
Locals claim that when the tide comes in at Morecambe Bay it does so at a speed that would overtake and submerge a galloping horse, something that has caught out thousands of day trippers and cockle-pickers for centuries.
One coastguard said last night: "There have been these sorts of tragedies since time immemorial. The bay is funnel-shaped, broad and shallow, and a 10 metre-high range in its tide means it can change into a death trap in minutes.
"The flood tide rushes into the bay faster than a man can run and seawater that surges up gullies between sand ridges can easily cut people off."
According to Morecambe Parish councillor Keith Budden quicksand is also a problem.
He said: "People should understand this is a dangerous place to be if you don’t know it. There are all sorts of gullies and rivers that run into the bay and they change on a daily basis. Areas that can appear firm one day can be quicksand the next. The locals here treat the dangers associated with the bay with the respect they deserve, but day trippers are forever being stranded out there."
The bay’s reputation is such that Royal guides have been appointed for hundreds of years to guide travellers safely across the deadly sands.
Alan Sledmore, who guides walkers across the bay, said the area where the Chinese immigrants were picking cockles was particularly notorious. "The Hest Sandbank area is very dangerous as the cocklers were caught between two channels. At the moment we have got high tides and we have got all the flood waters with their problems. When people try to cross, they meet these racing incoming tides."
Two weeks ago, 30 people were rescued in the bay in a similar operation as that involving the cocklers.
Stewart Rushton, 51, and his son Adam, nine, died two years ago when they became disorientated in fog and the sea suddenly closed in on them in the bay. The father of four had hoisted his son on to his shoulders as the sea swirled around them and called the emergency services from his mobile phone, but rescuers were unable to reach them in time.