The collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker has exposed a long-simmering dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over which country should control a 60-meter (197-foot) wide outcropping at the edge of the South China Sea.

Malaysia and Singapore both say the accident happened in their territorial waters because of the competing claims to Pedra Branca. Barely an island, the rocks are home to utilitarian structures including a communications tower meant to reinforce Singapore's claim and lapped by waters often fouled by mini oil slicks in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Despite being devoid of charms, the islet is a major political and economic prize for both countries, each claiming to be the coordinator for the search and rescue effort for 10 missing Navy sailors.