The sinking of an asylum seeker boat off Christmas Island in December 2010. Customs officer Myles Pickett has received a bravery award for his efforts to rescue asylum seekers.

The sinking of an asylum seeker boat off Christmas Island in December 2010. Customs officer Myles Pickett has received a bravery award for his efforts to rescue asylum seekers. Photo: CHANNEL NINE NEWS

A Customs officer has been recognised with a top bravery award for his efforts in pulling asylum-seekers from the sea after their boat broke up against rocks on Christmas Island three years ago.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Customs chief Mike Pezzullo presented the inaugural awards for bravery and other outstanding service to Australian Customs and Border Protection Service members in Canberra on Thursday night.

Customs officer Myles Pickett was given the top bravery honour for his leadership and personal efforts in helping rescue 42 asylum-seekers from rough seas after their boat was dashed against rocks around Christmas Island in December 2010. About 50 people drowned in the tragedy.

''Mr Pickett rapidly marshalled volunteers and co-ordinated the response,'' a Customs statement said. ''He stood on a jagged and dangerous cliff-face with waves breaking over him and despite his injured hands persevered in attempting to pull survivors from the water, over an extended period of time.

''He took command to receive the survivors and the deceased, and displayed exceptional leadership and support for his staff.''

Mr Pickett described the gruelling incident to the ABC on Thursday night as ''horrible, just horrible''.

''You just had to concentrate on trying to save one person at a time. There was no point sort of sitting back and taking in the scene,'' he said.

The crew of Customs ship Triton received a team medal for bravery for saving about 90 asylum-seekers whose boat sank north of Christmas Island last July.

Mr Morrison said: ''The entire crew demonstrated selfless bravery, perseverance and tenacity, given the weather conditions far exceeded the scope for normal boarding conditions.

''Many lives were saved through their courage and commitment. Their efforts will be remembered as an incredible service to our country.''

Other medals and commendations were given to Customs members for conspicuous conduct, excellence, innovation and health and safety.