Ten sailors missing after US warship, tanker collide near Singapore

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21 (Reuters) - A collision between a U.S. warship and an oil tanker near the Straits of Malacca on Monday has shone a light on a territorial dispute that has simmered between neighbors Singapore and Malaysia for nearly 40 years.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with merchant vessel Alnic MC to the east of Singapore, while heading to the city-state for a routine port call.

Ten U.S. sailors are missing and five were injured in the collision, which resulted in significant damage to the hull of the U.S. vessel and the flooding of some of its compartments.

RELATED: Photos from the scene of the incident

17 PHOTOS
US Navy ship collides with oil tanker
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US Navy ship collides with oil tanker
Personnel work on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
Personnel work on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
Personnel work on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
A helicopter hovers over the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
Tanker Alnic MC is seen in Singapore waters after a collision with U.S. Navy USS John S. McCain, August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Christoph Van Der Perre
Personnel work onboard a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain arrives at Changi Naval Base in Singapore August 21, 2017 in this handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
U.S. Navy personnel are seen on board guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
U.S. Navy personnel are seen onboard guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
A Republic of Singapore Navy vessel passes the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
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Singapore and Malaysia both said the incident took place in their territorial waters, as the warship and oil tanker collided near the rocky outcrop of Pedra Branca, an area that has long been contested by both countries.

Both countries said they were leading the search and rescue operation for the missing sailors.

Singapore was once part of Malaysia but they separated acrimoniously in 1965, clouding diplomatic and economic dealings for years.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2008 that Pedra Branca, which means "white rock" in Portuguese, belonged to Singapore and a nearby feature called Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia.

Malaysia sought a review of the ruling this year, reopening the dispute.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it was notified just before dawn of the collision in "Singapore territorial waters" in the Singapore Strait, and Singapore was leading the search and rescue operations.

Malaysia insisted that the incident happened in its waters, just miles off its southern state of Johor.

Malaysia's navy chief, Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, told Reuters the KD Handalan was the first to respond to the distress call from the U.S. ship.

"KD Handalan was just three miles from the USS McCain when it first received the distress call," he said.

Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency Director General Zulkifili Abu Bakar told reporters Malaysia disputed Singapore's assertion that the accident happened in its waters.

He said the Malaysian search and rescue operation was independent of Singapore's and Malaysia had not communicated with its neighbor about the incident.

19 PHOTOS
Life aboard a Navy ship during WWII
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Life aboard a Navy ship during WWII

Military Aircraft Aboard U.S.S. Yorktown with Sailors Performing Exercises, 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Sailors Watch as Aircraft Takes Off, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Sailors Aboard U.S.S. Yorktown, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

A man holding his hat, c. 1942-1945.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Crew with Naval Torpedoes, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Aircraft Taking Off of Carrier, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Men Getting in Aircraft, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Crew Eating, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Crew reading and writing, c. 1942-1945.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Sleeping man, c. 1942-1945.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Raid Against Marcus Island, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Sailors Aboard U.S.S. Yorktown with Naval Artillery Above, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Plane Handlers, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

"Got a Light, Mate?", Sailors Working Aboard U.S.S. Yorktown, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Sailors Playing Instruments, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Too Much Beer, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

Man and Aircraft, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

U.S. Navy Under American Flag, c. 1943.

(Photo by Fons Iannelli, courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York)

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"What is important is, we do not want to have another collision between assets on the ground," Zulkifili said. "For the time being, we shouldn't be arguing about whose waters it is, the most important thing is to focus on search and rescue."

The Malaysian navy assigned four vessels and a Super Lynx helicopter for the search and rescue, while the Malaysian armed forces and maritime authorities also deployed more assets. The Indonesian navy said it had deployed two warships.

The U.S. Navy said Singapore and U.S. assets were involved in search and rescue. It said in a statement late on Monday that Malaysian navy vessels and a helicopter had joined the search in the afternoon and Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, thanked Malaysia for its "great support."

(Additional reporting by Sam Holmes in Singapore; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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