A small wooden boat suspected to be carrying asylum seekers has been sighted off the north-west coast of Australia.
Crew working for oil and gas producer Modec spotted the boat within 500m of their floating oil tanker, about 150km (93 miles) from the Dampier coast.
A Modec spokesman said “a large number of people” appeared to be on the boat.
If confirmed as asylum seekers, it would be the first “illegal” vessel entry into Australia since June 2014.
At that time, 157 people were intercepted about 16 nautical miles from Australia’s Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, and taken to the mainland.
Australia has adopted a number of measures to stop asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat.
Modec Australia country operations manager Gary Kennedy told the BBC the company had contacted Australian authorities about the boat, which appeared to be seaworthy.
Neither the Australian Maritime Authority nor Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton would comment.
Australia and asylum
- Many asylum seekers – mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran – travel to Australia by boat from Indonesia
- The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey
- To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
- Everyone who arrives is detained. Under a new policy, they are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
- Tony Abbott’s government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around
- Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies and accuse Australia of shirking international obligations
Mr Kennedy said the boat, which looked like a fishing vessel, was spotted early on Monday, West Australian time.
“It came inside the exclusion zone [around the production facility], which is why we alerted authorities,” Mr Kennedy told the BBC.
Modec staff told him the people did not seem to be under “duress”, the vessel looked seaworthy, and the weather and sea conditions were not dangerous.
“The feedback [from staff] is that they appeared to be in high spirits,” said Mr Kennedy.
He said he had been told the people were Vietnamese but that had not been confirmed.
Mr Kennedy said it was possible Modec would be asked to assist the boat but so far no such request from Australian authorities had been made.
The West Australian newspaper has reported that there may be children on board the boat.
Last month, migrants headed to Australia told the UN the crew on their boat was paid by the Australian navy to turn back to Indonesia.
At the time, Prime Minister Tony Abbott would say only that his government used “creative strategies” to stop migrant boats.