Suspected asylum seekers have swum ashore on the Cocos Islands after their boat made it undetected to the Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

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An Australian Customs spokeswoman confirmed a suspected irregular entry vessel had reached the islands, 2750km northwest of Perth.

Australian Customs Vessel Hervey Bay is at the scene where local resident Jack O’Donnell says he spotted a boat on Wednesday morning about 200 metres offshore.

“About 10 minutes later four of the refugees, they’re Tamils, swam with life jackets through the surf,” Mr O’Donnell told the ABC.

The boat was crowded, and one of the men who swam ashore told Mr O’Donnell in broken English there were 69 people on board who were exhausted and in need of food, he said.

“We were just worried that they might try and traverse the surf, which would be dangerous. Well, it would be catastrophic because it’s jagged reef,” Mr O’Donnell said.

The customs spokeswoman said she was aware of the reports four people had swum ashore but could not confirm them.

Asked at a Melbourne press conference if he was aware of the situation, Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan replied: “No.”

ACV Hervey Bay intercepted a suspected asylum seeker vessel west of the islands, also known as the Keeling Islands, overnight. It was believed 28 people were on board.

The vessel initially was detected by customs and border protection officers on West Island of the Australian territory.

Those aboard were transferred to Australian government authorities on Cocos (Keeling) Islands for basic health and security checks pending transfer to Christmas Island.

The navy patrol boat HMAS Ararat also intercepted a suspected asylum seeker boat north of Christmas Island on Wednesday morning. The 43 passengers and two crew said to be on board have been transferred to Christmas Island.