The Australian prime minister, John Howard, says a boatload of suspected asylum seekers intercepted near Christmas Island could be sent to the Australian detention centre on Nauru for processing.
The 85, all men claiming to be from Sri Lanka although some are suspected to be from Indonesia, were taken aboard the Australian navy supply ship HMAS Success late on Wednesday when their boat was deemed unseaworthy.
It is the first arrival of asylum seekers since 43 Papuans landed on Cape York in January 2006, leading to a diplomatic rift with Indonesia.
Mr Howard says Australia's hardline policy of sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centres had not changed, and the latest arrivals give the government a chance to reassert their position.
He says they will not be allowed to land on the Australian mainland and the government is assessing the options, including sending them to Nauru.