Putrajaya, Malaysia - Malaysia is leading the search and rescue operation for 10 American sailors who are missing after a US missile destroyer and merchant ship collided, says the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
Its director-general, Admiral Zulkifli Abu Bakar, said certain foreign reports stating that the operation was being led by Singapore and the collision between the USS John S. McCain and oil tanker MV Alnic MC occurred in Singaporean waters were not true.
He said the accident happened at 5.30am some 4.5 nautical miles off the coast in Teluk Ramunia.
“It is in our waters, so we are leading the SAR operations. There is no sign of the missing sailors so far,” he told reporters at the MMEA headquarters here yesterday.
He said various assets have been deployed by the MMEA, Royal Malaysian Navy and maritime police in the operation.
“The search zones have been divided into four sectors, each comprising a square of five-by-five nautical miles,” he added.
Admiral Zulkifli said assets from Singapore were also in the area conducting their own search.
The collision took place close to Pulau Batu Putih, the focus of a territorial dispute between Malaysia and Singapore.
To this, Admiral Zulkifli said, “now is not the time for arguments”. “We will communicate with the Singaporean authorities,” he assured.
He said the Indonesian navy was also sending two ships, KRI Parang and KRI Cucuk, to help out. He said he did not want to speculate on what caused the collision, but noted that the region where it took place experienced intense maritime traffic.
“It is the entrance into the Singapore Straits and Malacca Straits, which sees over 80,000 ships passing through each year,” he pointed out.
Admiral Zulkifli said both ships have been directed to Singapore’s Changi port for repairs and investigation.
“USS John S. McCain suffered a gash on its port side while it is unclear if the Liberian registered MV Alnic MC had any damage,” he added.
Besides the 10 missing sailors, five were injured in the incident but are reportedly stable and being treated at a Singapore hospital.
The McCain was heading to Singapore for a routine port visit after conducting a sensitive freedom-of-navigation operation last week by sailing near one of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.