The government will from Monday waive the tonnage restrictions on river vessels which qualify for pre-arrival clearance at immigration stations, in a bid to help the flow of goods and people from the Pearl River Delta. The move will also ease the burden on the Immigration Department, which has been hard pressed to inspect the growing number of vessels dropping anchor at its three quarantine stations near Tuen Mun, Tsing Yi and To Kwa Wan. 'The Immigration Department is trying to help the government with its goal to integrate services with Hong Kong's catchment area in the Pearl River Delta,' said Wai Chuen, Harbour Control Division commander at the Immigration Department. 'We expect this measure will reduce operating costs for the river trade community by precluding some of them from having to drop anchor at the immigration points.' In May, the department launched a pre-arrival clearance system for vessels exceeding 700 tonnes. But that only expedited cross-border access for about 12 per cent of the 300-plus river vessels that arrive in Hong Kong from the mainland each day. Ocean-going vessels, such as those plying the intra-Asia, transpacific and Far East-Europe trades have a pre-arrival system in place. Lee Ka-mo, assistant director of the Marine Department's port control division, said: 'They recognise the well-established companies and frequent-callers are law abiding and would benefit from a pre-arrival system similar to that offered the ocean-going vessels. They looked at security issues and did a risk assessment and found pre-clearance could be offered to the smaller vessels, provided there had been no crew changes.' Mr Wai said about 700 to 800 more vessels would now be open to the pre-clearance regime provided they met other criteria such as having an agent in Hong Kong. It would also take pressure off Immigration, which had to provide more staff to the three check-points to monitor the growing number of workers plying the burgeoning river trade. Final volumes had yet to be tallied for last year, but it was projected more than 5.2 million boxes would have moved between Hong Kong and the delta, up about 12 per cent year on year.