Ribble estuary cocklers in 14th sea rescue
Cocklers were rescued from Lancashire's Ribble estuary for the 14th time since its cocklebeds opened at the beginning of September.
The latest rescue involving two helicopters, four lifeboats and two coastguard crews, was mounted to save three boats overcome by conditions.
Ten occupants in the boats alerted the coastguard through their mobile phones as they did not have radios.
The coastguard said ill-equipped cocklers were risking their lives.
The latest rescue took place at about 18:40 BST on Monday during a gale force 9 wind in heavy seas.
The skipper of one of the ribs had tried to tow back the two others, which had suffered engine failure, but had to abandon his attempts when he too began to take on water.
A spokesman for the Liverpool Coastguard said: "Mobile phones are no substitute for VHF radios, but we're seeing many cocklers relying on them.
"Out at sea the signal cuts out all the time, so we will phone the number back and it just goes to voicemail, leaving us wondering where these boats are, which is putting lives at risk."
The rescue came a week after a group of five Polish cocklers were rescued from the same area, prompting a warning from the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Board (NWIFCB) that there could be a "serious incident" unless small boats were safety-checked by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Under current law there is nothing to prohibit commercial fishing from designated areas using small boats, which are not required to be registered with the MCA, the RNLI said.
'Overloaded small boats'
Martin Jaggs, coxswain of the RNLI Lytham lifeboat said: "If last night's rescue had needed to take place in December when the sea is so much colder there's a very good chance somebody would have died.
"These are people with overloaded small boats, using old unreliable engines and crewed by people who have little knowledge of the sea."
The cockle bed at Foulnaze, near Lytham, attracts about 300 cocklers a day, who can make up to £1,200 a tonne at fish markets.
In February 2004, 23 Chinese men and women, who were collecting cockles on foot, were swept out to sea and drowned at Morecambe Bay.