A ship carrying nearly 500 Sri Lankan refugees turning up off the Canadian coast showed New Zealand could be targeted by people smugglers and desperate migrants, Prime Minister John Key says.
Believed to have left Thailand in April, the MV Sun Sea nearly made it to Vancouver, travelling about 7500 nautical miles, before it was intercepted by a navy vessel and its passengers detained.
Canadian officials said countries knew the cargo ship was in international waters, but legal constraints meant it was too difficult to seize it.
Mr Key today said he had expressed concerns about people smugglers targeting New Zealand, and although no boats had made it here, there was evidence of planned attempts.
"The ships that people smugglers are using are becoming bigger, they are increasingly capable of travelling further distances and this case particularly illustrates the point, and shows that New Zealand is an easily reachable destination," he said.
If ships from Southeast Asia could reach Canada, then it was obvious they could reach New Zealand, which was significantly closer, he said.
Dealing with asylum seekers or "boat people" was raised last month when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had a discussion with Mr Key about potentially setting up an off-shore processing centre for them.
The issue has stalled, but Ms Gillard had raised East Timor as a possible location.
Labour leader Phil Goff was one of few sceptical of the threat to New Zealand from people smugglers and desperate migrants - an issue constantly plaguing Australia.
Today, Mr Key said meetings had taken place looking at legislation issues relating to the prospect of having to handle a boat load of asylum seekers.
Whether or not there were adequate systems in place was "under debate", and changes may be needed, he said.