How did the dispute arise?

The dispute arose in 1979 when Malaysia published a map which claimed the island as hers. In response, Singapore lodged a formal protest with Malaysia, in early 1980.

Why did Singapore and Malaysia decide to put the dispute before the ICJ?

Singapore and Malaysia agree that bringing this matter before the ICJ will remove an irritant from the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Why did this process take so long?

It took slightly more than 20 years, from the time the dispute arose in 1979, for it to be finally brought before the ICJ. This suggestion was first made by Singapore in 1989.  Malaysia accepted this proposal in 1994.  The two countries agreed on the text of a Special Agreement (a formal agreement that was needed for the submission of this dispute to the ICJ) in 1998. Finally, the Special Agreement was signed on 6th February 2003 by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, and formally notified to the ICJ on 24 July 2003.