Regulator criticises Ribble cocklers boat safety

Safety measures on fishing boats used to collect cockles from a Lancashire river bed have been criticised by a regulator after a rescue operation.

A group of five Polish cocklers were recovered from their drifting boat by lifeboat crews after its engine failed in the Ribble estuary on Monday.

The North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Board (NWIFCB) said boats were not being checked by coastguards.

The Maritime Coastguard Agency declined to comment.

The NWIFCB claimed many boats were overloaded and said it feared a "serious incident".

'Overloaded with cockles'

Chief Executive Stephen Atkins said: "We will be making representations to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and to the Health and Safety Executive.

"These boats are returning overloaded with cockles - sometimes overloaded with people as well. It is a concern.

"The boats should be coded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to check that they are fit for purpose. We don't see that happening at the moment.

"There is a concern that the safety checks on the boats aren't happening.

"There is a real fear that there will be a serious incident. Many of the people from outside the area who are coming in have very little experience."

'No point'

The cockle bed at Foulnaze, near Lytham, attracts hundreds of cocklers a day, who can make up to £1,200 a tonne at fish markets.

The five people who were rescued on Monday were wearing bouyancy aids, but were not equipped with a radio, the Liverpool Coastguard said.

Paul Sumner, who has fished the Ribble estuary for 33 years and served as an RNLI member for 20 years, said that inexperienced skippers should follow longer established crews back to safety.

"There's no point risking your life for a few extra bags of cockles.

"When it's time to come back they should all come back as a fleet of boats," he said.

In February 2004, 23 Chinese men and women, who were collecting cockles on foot, were swept out to sea and drowned at Morecambe Bay.

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