Indonesian rescue authorities say a boat carrying up to 180 asylum seekers is being escorted to Christmas Island amid fears it could capsize and sink as it continues to be buffeted by three-metre waves.
The boat, which issued a distress call about 4.30am AEST (6.30am NZT) on Wednesday after taking on water off the coast of Indonesia, was under the close watch of HMAS Wollongong.A merchant vessel was also on the scene while HMAS Leeuwin was en route.
A Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft and a RAAF P-3 maritime patrol aircraft were also deployed.Indonesian rescue authorities had deployed a C-130 Hercules aircraft and a naval vessel to assist with the rescue operation.
The boat was located about 110 kilometres southwest of West Java and 370km northwest of Christmas Island, inside Indonesia's search and rescue region.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare earlier said the boat had turned back towards Indonesia.However, a spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency BASARNAS told AAP the asylum-seeker vessel was being escorted to Christmas Island.
"They said that they don't want to go back to Indonesian waters and as for now, they're on their way to Christmas Island guarded by HMAS Wollongong," he said.
"It's not easy to help them. The weather and the waves are not friendly at all at the moment. The wave height at times is about three metres."
He said that weather conditions and rough seas meant it was not possible to move the asylum seekers to either of the ships on the scene.
"Their boat is wooden boat and it might crushed," he said.
It was not clear from where in Indonesia the vessel had left.
"The boat has rung, said it's in distress, that it's taking on water," Mr Clare told ABC Radio.
"Whenever you have a call like that, you take it seriously.
"The latest high-seas drama comes just two weeks after a boat carrying about 200 people capsized on its way to Christmas Island, leaving an estimated 90 people dead.
A boat carrying 134 people sank last week, leaving four people dead.