The royal is expecting her first child with husband Jack Brooksbank in the coming weeks

By Phil Boucher
February 08, 2021 02:56 PM
Princess Eugenie
Credit: The Anti-Slavery Collective/Instagram

Princess Eugenie took part in a meaningful video call on Saturday.

Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, 30, who is expecting her first child with husband Jack Brooksbank in the coming weeks, remembered the tragic deaths of 21 Chinese laborers who tragically died on the sands of Morecambe Bay, northwest England, in 2004.

The workers were picking small local shellfish called cockles on a freezing February night when a rapid change in tide caught them unaware. A lifeboat crew later described the horrific scene to the BBC as a "sea of bodies."

"Seventeen years ago, 21 Chinese undocumented immigrant laborers were drowned by an incoming tide after picking cockles off the Lancashire coast," Eugenie said Sunday in a post for The Anti-Slavery Collective, which she co-founded in 2017 with close friend Julia de Boinville.

"While their story is so tragic, it really isn't very unique and it's something that happens in modern slavery and has only worsened in the last years," added Eugenie. "There's an estimated 24.9 million victims of forced labor globally across the world."

Julia added, "They were all working illegally, picking cockles for hours on end to send money back to their families while their gangmasters took all of the profits.

"Please join us in remembering them today."

Morecambe bay
A Morecambe Bay cockle picker at work
| Credit: PAUL BARKER/AFP via Getty

The deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers left an indelible mark on the close-knit Lancashire seaside town.

Speaking to the BBC through the U.K. government's Protected Persons Service, sole survivor Li Hua later told how the tidewater hit so suddenly that many of the Chinese workers were "dragged right away under the water."

"It was pitch black and I was desperate," he added. "I thought I might just as well wait to die.

"I was just numb…..then, I don't know how, a wave maybe turned me round. I was on my own... And then a helicopter came."

cockles in sand
Cockles in the sand
| Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty

"I could not believe I was being rescued and I was alive again."

In March 2006, Hua's evidence helped convict gangmaster Lin Liang Ren of 21 counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 14 years in jail.

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Eugenie has advocated against modern slavery since she joined forces with parents Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew in 2012 to set up a local enterprise initiative called Key to Freedom, to help survivors of trafficking find a market for their products. 

She has since visited survivors with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and is a Patron of Anti-Slavery International.

Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank
Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank
| Credit: JONATHAN BRADY/AFP via Getty

In December, the royal mum-to-be also helped The Salvation Army U.K. to provide crafts and other activities for safe house residents over the holiday period.

"Thank you for welcoming Eugenie and I into our home earlier this month, and for sharing your stories so openly," said a card attached to the gifts from de Boinville. "You inspire us to keep fighting against modern slavery, and we have you in our hearts and minds every day."