A COMMERCIAL ship has come to the aid of an ailing boat carrying 27 asylum seekers off the Cocos Islands.
An air force patrol plane spotted the ship about 173 nautical miles north-west of the Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.
The Maritime Safety Authority Rescue Co-ordination Centre put out a request to commercial ships in the area yesterday morning.
The Atlantic Hero came to the aid of the boat, which was in need of significant assistance.
"It was out of fuel, and they couldn't start their engine," a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection said.
It could not be established how long the vessel had been without fuel, but the spokeswoman said the asylum seekers were generally in good health.
"They [the asylum seekers] were transferred to the MV Atlantic Hero," the spokeswoman said.
The Atlantic Hero will transport the asylum seekers to Christmas Island, where their claims will be processed.
They will join another 51 asylum seekers who arrived on Christmas Island yesterday. The vessel arrived from Sri Lanka without any assistance.
The latest arrivals come as the Sri Lankan government intercepted two separate boatloads of would-be asylum seekers before leaving national waters. Sri Lanka's navy detected a trawler carrying 109 people off its eastern coast.
The navy was taking the boat to the port of Trincomalee, north-east of the capital Colombo.
''The men on board were heading for Australia,'' an unnamed navy official told Agence France-Presse. ''We are handing over these people to the police for further investigations and necessary action.''
On Saturday, 22 people were arrested as they prepared to leave Sri Lanka on a separate trawler. The destination of that trawler is not known.
Their arrests take the total number of Sri Lankans arrested in the last week, on charges of trying to leave the country illegally, to more than 250.
While most asylum-seeker boats originate in Indonesia, there has been a spike in attempted crossings from Sri Lanka.
Last month, at least 94 people died when two boats capsized en route to Christmas Island.