Cold War movie

Vanishing shoals foster co-operation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 January, 1999, 12:00am

It is a classic piece of James Bond buffoonery. In the recent Tomorrow Never Dies, 007 emerges from the waters of what is supposed to be Halong Bay in the far north of Vietnam and clambers aboard what appears to be a Thai fishing boat.

Communist Party sensitivities over Bond's right-wing traditions meant the scene had to be shot off the Thai coastal resort of Krabi more than 1,500km away on the edge of the Indian Ocean. But with typical Hollywood heavy-handedness over matters Asian, no one bothered to paint over the large Thai lettering running down the side of vessel.

And now, in a slightly skewed fashion, life is poised to imitate art.

The state-run Halong Sea Products Corporation announced this week that it was seeking permission to rent 10 powerful fishing boats from Thailand to better plunder the Gulf of Tonkin. If the deal goes through, it will mark a highly significant development in the emerging Thai-Vietnamese friendship - a relationship long marked by mutual suspicion and mistrust.

Up until now, the only Thai fishing boats seen in Vietnam were generally under arrest in southern Vietnamese ports for sailing a little too far out into the Gulf of Thailand for Hanoi's liking.

Their crews could be detained for months at a time and sometimes faced additional allegations that they had brought AIDS to Vietnam.

Tensions ran so high that just a week before Vietnam joined Thailand in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations three years ago, their navies staged a lengthy shootout over one apparent incursion. The situation has eased considerably since both nations agreed on new borders in the gulf and pledged to consider joint patrols and fishing research.

The possible rental deal is also significant for other reasons. It indicates how depleted fish stocks have become off the heavily plundered Thai coast if local owners can now make more money hiring out their craft to the Vietnamese rather than fishing.

The situation is only marginally better in the Gulf of Tonkin, saved only by the backwardness of the northern Vietnamese fisherman.

Fleets were depleted during the boat-people crisis a decade ago and now comprise a motley collection of craft, including sailing junks and tiny round crab boats made with rattan and tar.

Certainly it is going to be a few years yet before Krabi film-makers have to worry about Vietnamese boats filling the horizon and ruining their shots.