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Lessons have not been learnt from Morecambe Bay tragedy

February 4, 2009 5:54 PM

On the fifth anniversary of the Morecambe Bay tragedy, South Lakes MP Tim Farron has expressed his anger and concern that lessons have not been learnt from the disaster.

Twenty three Chinese cockle pickers perished on the night of 5 February 2004 as some of the fastest rising tides in the UK cut them off from the shore.

In the aftermath of the tragedy action was promised to make sure that something like this could never happen again. While much has been done to ensure that gangmasters do not exploit their workers, or put them at risk, other crucial actions have not been taken.

Since 2004 the North West and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee has been pushing for a long term 'Fisheries Order' to be put in place on the Bay. The order would provide security for operators on the bay, protect the bay from over exploitation and crucially give the sea fisheries committee to power to manage the bay sustainably and safely.

However, the Crown Estate, who own much of the foreshore, have consistently blocked the order pending the outcome of a court case over the Menai Straits off Anglesey. That court case is understood to surround the ability of the Crown Estate to maximise the amount of money it can make from its ownership of foreshores.

Mr Farron has laid down a parliamentary motion calling on the Crown Estate to remove their objections to the order, and asking Defra to consider removing the Crown Estate's rights of veto on fisheries orders as part of the Marine Bill.

In another blow, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have removed their rescue boat from Arnside, and only after months of pressure from local campaigners is the Department for Transport looking at the implications of its removal on the safety of the bay.

Speaking this morning, Mr Farron said:

"The deaths of twenty-three innocent people in such dismal circumstances was utterly heartbreaking. We owe to those who lost their lives, and to all those in the emergency services who rescued the survivors, to ensure that no such tragedy ever occurs again.

"The Crown Estate, who is the only landowner with the ability to block a fisheries order in this way, should be ashamed of itself for putting profit before the safety of cockle pickers.

"It is appalling that, just five years after the tragedy, government and the regional Coast Guard authorities appear to have become complacent when it comes to safety on the Bay."

The text of Mr Farron's Early Day Motion is as follows:

That this House recognises that 5 February is the 5th anniversary of the Morecambe Bay tragedy, which claimed the lives of 23 Chinese cockle pickers on the Bay; expresses concern that the Crown Estate is currently withholding consent for Fisheries Orders, including one for Morecambe Bay, pending the outcome of a court case regarding the Menai Straits; accepts that Fisheries Orders are an essential tool for the management of shellfish fisheries like Morecambe Bay; believes that Fisheries Orders provide an assurance that the fisheries are exploited safely; calls on the Crown Estate to drop its opposition to new Fisheries Orders before any further tragedy occurs and for Defra to include provisions in the Marine Bill to remove the right of the Crown Estate to veto Fisheries Orders.