A BOAT crowded with the largest number of asylum seekers to arrive in Australia in more than a decade has been picked up near Christmas Island as the Immigration Minister concedes intercepting asylum-seekers is placing the navy under increased pressure .
Two navy patrol vessels went to the aid of the boat, which had 211 people aboard.
This latest arrival comes as MPs are poised to resume the heated debate on asylum seekers when Parliament returns next week. This will include consideration of the Houston Report, which cabinet is scheduled to look at on Monday.
And Immigration Minister Chris Bowen conceded this morning that rescuing asylum seekers was placing increased operational pressure on the navy when questioned about reports that navy patrol boats were literally cracking under the strain.
News Ltd reported today that Defence had ordered an investigation into its 14-boat patrol fleet after one boat was banned from operations and structural cracks were discovered in at least two others.
''Of course, that's the case, but they'd also be doing other work as well,'' he told ABC Radio.
More than 7300 asylum seekers have arrived by boat this year, more than half of them in the past two months. This is compared to about 4500 people for the whole of 2011.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received a distress call from someone on the latest boat about 3pm on Wednesday who said that boat was low in the water.
The HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Ararat reached the vessel - which was 136 nautical miles north of Christmas Island - at 7pm on Wednesday.
The weather conditions were not good enough for the navy to board the distressed boat, so it was taken under tow. By daybreak, the passengers were transferred to the navy vessels and arrived at Christmas Island last night.
The large number rescued suggests passengers and people smugglers have not been deterred by the death of about 90 people in June, when another crowded boat capsized.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison last night accused the government of using two navy ships as a "water taxi".
The Christmas Island detention centre is nearly full and authorities have to fly people to the mainland.
Detention centres on the mainland are under strain, despite more than 3200 asylum seekers having been released into the community on bridging visas.
There are also reports that Defence has ordered an investigation into its navy patrol boats, with concerns that the strain of picking up so many asylum seeker boats is damaging the fleet and capacity to patrol Australia's northern border.
After Parliament failed six weeks ago to agree on a policy to try to stem the record arrivals of asylum seekers by boat, Prime Minister Julia Gillard asked three eminent Australians to spend the winter break consulting all parties and to report to Parliament, before it resumed, on a preferred policy.
The group has prepared a range of options containing the various policy ideas of Labor, the Greens and the Coalition. It then cites the options it believes will be the most effective and it is understood it favours the government's hardline approach, such as the Malaysia plan.
Parliament resumes next Tuesday. With the Greens steadfastly opposed to sending asylum seekers offshore, the government will try to pressure the Coalition.
The Coalition have repeatedly said it will not support the Malaysia plan and that they don't need a committee to tell it what its policy is.