A MISSING oyster picker triggered a huge rescue operation over fears she was stuck in mud near Southend Pier. 

The Coastguard was alerted to initial reports of a woman trapped in the mud after she was separated from her husband as they collected oysters from the Thames  Estuary. 

The couple were licensed and not illegal shellfish harvesters which have prompted other police operations in recent weeks.

The husband reported he had lost sight of their wife and called 999 to seek assistance.

Southend police arrived on scene and requested the assistance of HM Coastguard, who in turn alerted the RNLI Southend Lifeboat who sent out their Southend hovercraft to assist.

Also a police helicopter hovered above to help with the search.

During the search, the casuality - the wife - was located west of Southend Pier.

She was brought safely ashore where Southend Coastguard performed a welfare check and provided some safety advice, no medical assistance was needed.

A spokesman for HM Coastguard, Southend, said: "Over recent weeks there has been much discussion about unlicensed workers out in the mud across the Southend borough with various local/government authorities becoming involved to ensure rules and regulations are adhered to but also to ensure the safety of those who venture out on the mud/sand flats.

"If you are unlicensed, not only are you breaking the law but you will also be operating below the radar of local authorities which means if you get into trouble, you may lose your life.

We are constantly reminded of the terrible tragedy that happened on the evening of 5 February 2004 at the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster where 21 lives were lost.

"Please ensure you are licensed when operating off the coast and let friends and family know where you are, what time you are venturing out and your ETA back onshore - your life may depend on it.

"Should you see anyone in trouble on or near the coast, don’t hesitate to dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard, you could save someone’s life."

The rescue took place late on Friday night.