Open ferries will be used to move 5,500 Vietnamese from Tai A Chau to Whitehead detention centre this month in the biggest such operation, it was revealed yesterday. Police launches will escort the boats in case anyone jumps overboard. Three vessels will transport 550 people to HMS Tamar on Stonecutters Island every day from September 16 to 25. From there the boat people, all southern Vietnamese, will be taken by truck to Whitehead near Sai Kung. Details of the operation to clear the 'showcase camp' were released yesterday by Principal Assistant Secretary of Security Gordon Leung Chung-tai. He said: 'It will take about 10 days to complete. Three ferries, two for people and one for luggage, will go from Tai A Chau to Tamar. 'There will be police on board and police launches escorting the ferries. If anyone jumps from the ferry the police launches will be there to rescue them.' Mr Leung said there had been no indications of trouble on the island south of Lantau. 'So far there are quite good signs. They have pledged their co-operation. They have said they will go peacefully.' He said the transfer was being carried out for purely practical reasons. 'We need to close the camps as quickly as possible now and this is one step we are taking.' United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officers have been counselling detainees to volunteer for repatriation, but with little success. Unlike Whitehead and High Island there are no barbed wire fences and for seven hours a day residents have the run of the 2.5-kilometre island. Refugee lawyer Rob Brook said: 'The move to Whitehead is consistent with the Government and the UNHCR's policy of making conditions as intolerable as possible in the hope more people will volunteer for repatriation.' Although the Vietnamese will be transferred at HMS Tamar, the Navy is playing no role in the operation. The Government has spent $761.7 million on Vietnamese boat people and refugees in the past three years, according to figures released yesterday. Legal costs for civil and criminal cases came to $91.52 million - 11.15 per cent of total Legal Aid expenditure.