It was not immediately clear whether they were trying to seek asylum in Australia, or where they were from. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the three men, three women and 10 children had set off in wooden boat from Indonesia's Rote Island .
Two navy patrol boats were diverted to assist the 10-meter-long (33-foot-long) vessel after workers on an offshore mining rig saw it taking on water Tuesday, a defense department statement said. Naval officers rushed to the scene and pulled all 16 passengers from the overcrowded boat as it sank in rough seas.
Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said immigration officials were working to determine the identities and nationalities of those rescued.
Many asylum seekers set off from Indonesia in rickety boats bound for Australia .
In February, the Australian navy intercepted a boatload of 83 Sri Lankans, the largest group of asylum seekers to try and reach Australia since 2001, when the Norwegian vessel Tampa rescued 433 mostly Afghan asylum seekers from a sinking Indonesian ferry and attempted to take them to Australia .
Prime Minister John Howard refused to allow the ship to dock on Australian soil, and eventually adopted a hardline policy of refusing to allow asylum-seekers to reach the Australian mainland by boat.