They were swallowed up by the ever-changing sands but exactly 10 years later have re-emerged as a spooky reminder of tragedy.
The Visitor can reveal the cockle bags abandoned by Chinese men and women who lost their lives have gradually emerged from the sands of Morecambe Bay in past weeks – a timely memorial to the 23 cockle pickers who lost their lives a decade ago.
Also risen from the sands is the shell of a partially submerged 4x4 vehicle used to transport the Chinese cocklers to the cockle beds to harvest the shellfish. The partially rusted vehicle sits eerily on its side and from afar it almost appears as if the driver is still in the driving seat.
The bulging bags of mature cockles encased in red net were discovered by fishermen as it was revealed that Lin Liang Ren, the gangmaster who left the 23 Chinese cockle pickers to die, was deported back to China in 2012 after serving less than half his sentence of 14 years. The cockles have been unearthed at Priest Skear, a rocky outcrop about three quarters of a mile out in the bay.
From this rocky plateau the only survivor plucked from the icy waters that night in February 2004, Li Hua, was rescued by helicopter.
The cockle bags and 4x4 vehicle have only recently been uncovered by the River Kent in the bay.
Local fishermen Stephen Clarke and Phil Forster made the chilling discovery. Stephen said: “We were out checking where the River Kent was on the first visit in that area for weeks due to the high tides. According to a book written in 1951, this is the first time the River Kent has flowed round the skear since 1677.
“More ground than ever is being uncovered at Priest Skear and for the first time in 10 years, these bags have been exposed. The bags would be left stockpiled behind the skear ready to be picked up.
“No-one would have left the bags there deliberately so we can only assume they were left by the Chinese cocklers.
“The jeep and the cockle bags will be covered up again by the tide and the River Kent.
“It’s cold, wet and exposed out here and we are out here in daylight. On that night it was pitch black and the cocklers were in a place where they had no idea where they were.
“They were completely at the mercy of whoever sent them out there. The tide came up behind them and before they knew it, it was 15 feet deep and half a mile wide.
Last year in almost the same location at Priest Skear, short cockle rakes were uncovered that had been hastily dumped in a heap by Chinese cocklers.
In 2010, the skull of the 22nd victim of the Chinese cockle disaster, Liu Qin, was found in the sands by cross bay walkers. The body of a 23rd victim, Dong Xin Wu, has never been found.