A collision involving a US navy ship and an oil tanker took place in waters that have been bitterly disputed between Malaysia and Singapore for decades.
The incident happened while the USS John McCain, a guided missile destroyer, was on its way to a port call in Singapore. Ten sailors are currently missing and five were injured.
Singaporean and Malaysian authorities have both said the incident happened in their territorial waters. Both sides said publicly that each were leading the search and rescue efforts and reiterated those claims when contacted by CNN for clarification.
“Singapore should have … joined our search and rescue,” Zulkifili Abu Bakar, the director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, told CNN. “This incident happened in Malaysian territorial waters.”
Singapore deployed nearby assets to the Malacca Strait — one of the world’s most congested waterways — to help, including divers to help in the search and tugboats. The small city-state also flew four people from the ship to a hospital on land (their injuries are not considered life-threatening.) The US Navy said Malaysian ships joined the search effort in the afternoon local time.
Claire Lim, a spokeswoman for the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority, said the crash happened in Singapore’s waters but declined to comment further when asked about the competing Malaysian claim, instead directing CNN to a media relations email address.
Though the collision happened in disputed waters, Bakar said at a news conference earlier Monday that the search and rescue effort remains the top priority.
“I don’t think we should … argue about whose waters, because I think the most important thing is to focus on the search and rescue effort,” he said. “The assets on the ground also, they are talking to each other. One thing is very clear is that we do not want to have another collision between the assets on the ground.”
The USS John McCain was able to sail on its own Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, where it is currently docked.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson is expected to order a one-day pause in operations “to ensure we are taking all appropriate immediate measures to enhance the Navy’s safe and effective operation around the world,” according to a US Defense official and an advanced copy of Richardson’s statement obtained by CNN.
The stand-down will take place over the next couple of weeks, at the discretion of individual commands, the defense official said.
“This is the second major collision in the last three months, and is the latest in a series of major incidents, particularly in the Pacific theater. This trend demands more forceful action,” Richardson’s statement says.