Cockles and Mussels…and Gross Negligence

September 20th, 2005 by

You may remember the Irish tune about Molly Malone, seller of fresh cockles and mussels.
In Dublin’s fair city,
where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheel’d her wheel barrow
Thro’ streets broad and narrow
Crying “Cockles and Mussels alive, alive O!”
Alive, alive O! Alive, alive O
Crying Cockles and Mussels Alive, alive O!
She was a fishmonger,
But sure ’twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they each wheel’d their barrow
Thro’ streets broad and narrow,
(Repeat Chorus)
She died of a fever
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone;
But her ghost wheels her barrow
Thro’ streets broad and narrow
(Repeat Chorus)
[Written and composed by James Yorkston]
Poor Molly died of a fever, but more recently, on a cold, rainy night in February, at least 21 illegal Chinese immigrants died while attempting a nightime harvesting of cockles at treacherous Morecambe Bay in northwest England. The Bay is known not just for its beauty, but also for its deadly coastline with fast rising tides and quicksands. The harvesters were caught when the waters rose behind them, cutting off access to the shore. To compound the problem, they were working at night and were unfamiliar with the terrain. Now the master of the crew, Lin Liang Ren, 29 years old, has been charged with criminal negligence in the deaths of the workers.
Why Cockles?
Morecambe Bay is holds millions of pounds worth of cockles, a small mollusc popular in southern Europe, especially Spain. High prices have caused a rush to pick them. The price of cockles has soared from 200-300 pounds per ton, to 1,500 pounds in the past few years, after mechanical harvesting was banned in Holland, making England Europe’s only supplier.
Culture Wars
Some of the gatherers are independent local people who can earn a very good living from the difficult harvest. But much collecting has been done by gangs of illegal migrants, crammed into dormitories and indebted to criminals who smuggled them to Britain. The migrant workers often meet fierce resistance from the locals (reminiscent of the lobster wars — see our August 29 blog.)
Crewmaster Lin hooked up with Tony Eden, proprietor of the Liverpool Bay Fishing Company. Eden agreed to pay