Ignored warnings leads to 14th rescue in seven weeks

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COCKLERS were today accused of gambling with their lives after it was revealed rescue crews had been called to help them 14 times in just seven weeks.

A massive search and rescue operation was mounted on Monday after around 100 cocklers got into trouble in high winds at the Ribble Estuary in Lytham.

Cockle pickers are rescued from Ribble Estuary in Lytham by the coastguard and RNLI.

Cockle pickers are rescued from Ribble Estuary in Lytham by the coastguard and RNLI.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies says lessons had clearly not been learned from the Morecambe Bay tragedy in February 2004 when 23 cocklers died.

He said: “This is a crisis situation and it’s unacceptable people’s lives are being put at risk.

“An urgent review is needed before we end up with deaths on our hands. Lessons were supposed to be learnt after the Morecambe Bay tragedy but it appears they have not.”

Three lifeboats and the police helicopter scanned the area on Monday night. Ten cocklers were rescued.

Lytham lifeboat staff say they believe poorly equipped cocklers are dangerously gambling with their own safety. Martin Jaggs, coxswain of the RNLI Lytham Lifeboat said: “If Monday’s rescue had been in December there’s a very good chance somebody would have died.

“Cocklers are using overloaded small boats with old unreliable engines and people crewing them are not experienced sailors.

“We get called out around mainly for engine failure, I worry their luck is going to run out.”

Liverpool Coastguard also raised the issue of cocklers using mobile phones instead of VHF radios. Officers believe signal problems could put lives at risk.

Coun Tommy Threlfall, cabinet member for Fylde Council’s Environment and Partnerships, called for more local accountability at the site. He has requested a meeting with Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and hopes the council will gain the right to restrict the number of cockling licences granted.

The cockle bed at Lytham attracts around 300 cocklers a day, who can make up to £1,200 a tonne with their haul.

Currently licenses are issued by the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority and cocklers have to undergo safety training.