The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Ahmad Masood

Since Monday’s collision of the US destroyer John S. McCain, both the Malaysian and Singapore authorities have been issuing statements that claimed the incident took place in their respective national waters as part on an ongoing territorial dispute which could complicate search and rescue efforts for the missing US sailors.

USNI News reports that the dispute centers on the sovereignty of the Pedra Branca island, which lies 4.6 nautical miles away from the collision incident, 7.7 nautical miles south from the Malaysian coast and 24 nautical miles away from Singapore.

For years, both Singapore and Malaysia have contested features around the island. USNI says the issue has been submitted to the International Court of Justice for resolution. But due to the conflicting claims, the US naval news service says both countries are conducting separate and independent search and rescue operations for the missing US crew members so as not to recognize the other’s sovereignty claims.

At the same time, USNI said: “It is likely that behind the scenes, common sense has prevailed and both countries are keeping each other informed of their operations and coordinating their efforts though because of the legal issues, neither side can publicly say so as it could be taken as de facto acceptance of the other side’s sovereignty in the disputed waters.”