The Terrifying Mystery of the Ghost Ship S.S. Ourang Medan

ss ourang medan

In June 1947, the Dutch freighter S.S. Ourang Medan suddenly sent out a dire distress signal while traveling along the Strait of Malacca. "All Officers, including the Captain, were dead. Lying in the map room and the bridge. Probably the entire crew is dead."

This first message was followed by a series of indecipherable Morse code sequences until finally, a final ominous transmission:

"I am dead."

Ourang Medan was eventually picked up by British and Dutch listening posts around Sumatra and Malaysia, who worked together to determine where the signal was coming from and alert nearby ships.

It was the American merchant ship Silver Star that first reached Ourang Medan. They went in and shouted to the ship to check for signs of life above deck. But there was no answer. Only eerie silence.

The US ship decided to send a rescue team on board to search for survivors. But what they found was horrifying.

The entire crew was a ghastly pile of corpses with wide-eyed, frozen mouths as if screaming, arms outstretched as if to say stop but unable to say anything else.

Inside, they found the captain with the same terrified expression on his face as his men, dead on the deck. Now it was nothing more than a dead captain commanding a dead ship.

The once strapping officer was now a cold corpse sprawled across the wheelhouse and map room floor. Even the ship's guard dogs were not spared a gruesome death.

But the most gruesome was the discovery of the radio operator with his fingertips still stuck to the telegraph where he had sent his dying message.

After seeing the horrific destruction on the ship, Silver Star decided to tow the Ourang Medan to port. But before reaching the shore, thick smoke began to rise from the lower decks.

The crew barely had time to save themselves, until the Ourang Medan exploded. The explosion turned out to be so big that the ship was lifted into the air and sank quickly, sinking all its mysteries to the seabed.

Some details may vary slightly in each version of the story. Such as that the date was February 1948 instead of June 1947. Or that the waters on that day were choppy instead of calm. That the crew not only died but decomposed at a faster rate.

While in some versions details like that one of the two American ships that heard the distress signal was named The City of Baltimore. That the smoke from the lower deck before the explosion came exactly from the Number 4 hold. Or that the little dog on the ship was a small terrier breed.

But from all the versions of the story you've heard, the bottom line remains the same, the entire crew of the Ourang Medan suffered a horrific and inexplicable death, and then very conveniently exploded and sank to the bottom of the sea, leaving us all with a terrible unsolved sea mystery.

So what happened to Ourang Medan?


THEORY 1: Deadly nerve gas

What is often doubted in the Ourang Medan story is the lack of a ship's log file.

Lloyd's shipping registers never mention the ship. It is not recorded as a disaster at sea covering the years 1824-1962 in The Dictionary of Disasters at Sea. And neither is it in the registrar of Shipping and Seafarers.

There is no trace of her at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. There are no records of Dutch Shipping in Amsterdam. The Maritime Authority of Singapore also has no ill-fated vessel in its records.

In other words, the Ourang Medan was a ghost ship, even before it gained notoriety. Because there is no real evidence that it even existed.

But as explained in this legend, the Ourang Medan was part of a transnational government cover-up involving the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, China, the United States, and probably many others.

They believe that the ship was deliberately excluded from all maritime records because it had been used to smuggle a secret cargo of deadly nerve gas to Japan.

It is said that the voyage of the Ourang Medan was linked to Army Unit 731 founded by Japanese bacteriologist ShirĊ Ishii, whose main goal was to return chemical, gaseous, or biological weapons, which could win the war in their favor.

But since the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited the use of all chemical and biological weapons in war, the only way that poison gas could be shipped across the world without arousing suspicion from the authorities was by loading it as an inconspicuous item, or as an aged cargo on Dutch freighters.

This theory also provides an easy and plausible explanation for the gruesome deaths of the Ourang Medan crew. With such dangerous chemicals on board, a gas leak would surely lead to the death of everyone on board.

However, it would not explain why the salvage crew of the Silver Star was not affected by the poisonous gas when they boarded the ship. Or why, as in Ourang Medan, there is no mention of Silver Star on Lloyd's list.

THEORY 2: Carbon Monoxide Leaks

American author and inventor of the term Bermuda Triangle, Vincent Gaddis, speculates that carbon monoxide poisoning is the answer to the mysterious deaths of the Ourang Medan crew.

According to his theory, the burning of fuel from a malfunctioning boiler system produced carbon monoxide fumes that poisoned the crew. When inhaled carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream and prevents red blood cells from carrying oxygen around the body. At high levels, carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death.

The problem with this theory is that the Ourang Medan is not an enclosed space. Fumes could simply escape into the atmosphere, and the crew working on the deck of the ship would have survived.

THEORY 3: Pirates

There are theories claiming that pirates attacked Ourang Medan and killed everyone on board, which while not explaining some accounts that say there were no visible wounds on the bodies of the victims, does fit with the Malacca Strait's history of rampant piracy since the 14th century.

Due to its narrow geography and dotted with many islands, it was ideal for launching surprise attacks on ships using it as a trade route to China and Europe.

THEORY 4: Ghosts

One of the most oft-repeated, but arguably least important details in the story of Ourang Medan is the cold wind that the rescue team felt as they entered the hull, despite the 43°C outside temperature.

The inexplicable drop in temperature coupled with the expression of fear on the corpse's face in the vast and cruel sea, made it seem as if a ghost had done it.

There aren't many supporters of this theory, but no ghost ship legend is without ghost stories.

THEORY 5: Aliens

You might think that the alien theory is the least plausible, least creative, and most rejected theory regarding the phenomena in Ourang Medan, but it is the most popular theory in the entire book that discusses the case.

The Ourang Medan story has all the elements of mystery, such as unexplained deaths, unknown assailants, world powers, war, pirates, ghosts, and conspiracy theories that make perfect sense.

Perhaps that's why it still fascinates us to this day, despite being debunked by historians, researchers, and internet fact checkers calling it a hoax.

What do you think, do you have another theory? Put your comment below.

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