British officials in Vietnam are battling to stop a new flood of boat people leaving for Hong Kong, amid fears snakeheads could be capitalising on uncertainties surrounding the handover. Almost 700 Vietnamese have arrived this year, compared to 1,035 for the whole of last year. 'We worry that false rumours are being spread somehow that immigration policies could change and people are taking the chance to go now,' one British official said. 'Certainly the recent numbers of arrivals are the highest for many months and are a great worry. This is the last thing we need at this time.' About 540 Vietnamese have arrived in the past seven weeks. Although it is sailing season, the figure is 10 times higher than last spring. The British Embassy is seeking meetings with provincial governments to press for strict coastal enforcement. British officials are also seeking urgent clarification from Vietnam over the future of the Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement governing returns. A report in the Communist Party daily Nhan Dan called for the completion of repatriation under the plan by May 31. 'We are assuming they are referring to the date as a target, not a final cut-off, but we want to be sure,' one source said. 'As it stands, that target date may be very difficult to achieve.'