Cold War movie

Huge expense in Vietnamese removal drive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 1994, 12:00am

A CAST of thousands, a host of stunts, an array of land, air and marine paraphernalia, millions of dollars and some good-luck prayers were thrown by the Government at just 21 recalcitrant Vietnamese asylum seekers.

No public expense was spared in one of the most lavish productions of its kind, stretching resources, tying up staff in a dozen government departments for two days and chewing tens of thousands of dollars in fuel for the helicopters alone.

The total bill has not yet been determined in the aftermath of the eventual extraction of Vietnamese from the High Island detention centre, but estimates show it easily tops several million dollars, based on the 20,000 labour hours and cost of keeping more than 100 vehicles and other equipment on duty.

This boils down to hundred of thousands of dollars for each of the 21 boat people, prompting charges from Refugee Concern that the Vietnamese could have been resettled in another country for less money and with a minimum of fuss.

Two Government Flying Service helicopters, 11 fire engines, four ambulances from the Fire Services Department and three launches from the Marine Police were some of the most visible machinery operating above, below and around the hapless detainees.

But there was more in the way of equipment and personnel lining the reservoir wall overlooking the camp, in the command centre and on standby in the usually tranquil Sai Kung Country Park.

Police on foot, on motorcycles and in buses and launches numbered more than 400, many of them drawn from the Police Tactical Unit.

More than 320 men and women made up the Correctional Services Department's (CSD) outfit, including counsellors, interpreters, drivers, Emergency Support Group officers and even recruits for the handling of baggage.

The Fire Services contingent of about 60 was easily the smallest of the three major forces, but even it outnumbered the targeted Vietnamese by three to one.

A government spokesman said: 'The biggest expenditure will likely be the overtime allowance for the staff of all the disciplined services, depending on how early they started and how late they finished.' Helmets, batons, riot shields, tear-smoke, loud speakers, air cushions, ropes, ladders, video and still cameras and portable toilets were some of the paraphernalia in use, all rushed into Sai Kung by a fleet of buses, trucks and motorcycles.

The most urgent transports, including that of Deputy Secretary for Security Ken Woodhouse so he could pay a flying visit, were provided by S76-type helicopters for 151/2 hours at a total cost of more than $200,000.

A police spokesman said it was difficult to estimate the operation's cost.