Story of “S.S. Ourang Medan” The Mystery Ship

Humans have been sailing long before flying or going to outer space which is why the history of our ocean is packed with rumors and fanciful stories amongst which are sea monsters and ghost ships. The likes of lock ness monster, Mary Celeste, and the Flying Dutchman have been around for centuries, but there have also been mysterious happenings at sea that date back to just a few decades. Like all tales at sea, these stories have been widely debated by skeptics and believers, including today’s featured story of the mysterious demise of the S.S. Ourang Medan.

The SOS, The Mystery Ship, And The Horror Onboard:

In either June 1947 or late February 1948, many ships that were sailing along the Straits of Malacca near Sumatra and Malaysia received a chilling SOS by an unidentified vessel. The SOS message was said to be separated into two parts with a mystery morse code no one has been able to crack yet in between. This message read:

All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead. … I die.

Dead Crewman

After this spine-chilling message, there was no other communication from the mystery ship. The signal was picked up by two American vessels who pinpointed the location of the Dutch freighter S.S. Ourang Medan by triangulating it using Dutch and British listening posts. The ship that first reached the distressed freighter was an American merchant ship called the Silver Star. As the Silver Star approached the Dutch freighter, no signs of life were seen forcing the captain of the merchant ship to board the other to find out the cause of the lack of communication with the crew.

However, when the search crew stepped onto the deck of the S.S. Ourang Medan, they were met with a horrifying scene straight out of a ghost ship movie. The decks of the ship had several corpses of the crew who all had a wide-eyed face filled with soul-crushing terror at the time of their deaths. Their positions looked like they were trying to push away and fight off something or another. The ship’s dog also died while snarling at whatever killed them. Similar to the crew, the Captain was found on the bridge while the other officers were found to be in the chart-room and wheelhouse. Even the radio operator, who is assumed to have sent the SOS was found to be at his station with the same expression on his face.

The Oddities On The S.S. Ourang Medan:

There were a few odd and mysterious occurrences that happened when the rescue crew was on the S.S. Ourang Medan:

The first oddity was that while the ambient temperature was over 100 F, they still felt a disturbing chill that was emanating from somewhere on the ship.

The second oddity was that the bodies of the dead crewmen had no injuries to account for their deaths and it could also be seen that the bodies were decomposing quicker the normal.

The third oddity is that the ship didn’t seem to have suffered any damage itself, which is why the Captain of the Silver Star ordered the S.S. Ourang Medan to be towed back for salvage.

The final and fourth oddity of the S.S. Ourang Medan was that when the ships were tied together, smoke was seen to be coming from the No.4 cargo hold of the freighter. This immediately made the Silver Star severe the tow rope attached to the now smoking ship. Just a few moments later, the S.S. Ourang Medan exploded with such force that it was said to lift out of the water before coming down and sinking to its eternal resting place.

Ourang Medan Explosion

S.S. Ourang Medan: The Ship Without An Origin

The reason the S.S. Ourang Medan is considered to be a mystery to many is that no one has found the registry of the ship. Even in the Dictionary of Disasters at sea 1824-1962 or Lloyd’s Shipping registers. Based on the name, people speculate that it was registered in Sumatra, a Dutch colony at the time. Ourang translates to ‘man’ in Indonesian while Medan is the largest city on Sumatra, making the name of the ship, ‘Man From Medan.’ There is also speculation that the S.S. Ourang Medan didn’t exist due to the lack of registration or the fact that the crew who first saw the freighter had been very tightlipped about the incident.

The United States Coast Guard, in May 1952, noted the first official account of the S.S. Ourang Medan where there were witness testimonials. The testimonials were from the rescue crew and their discovery of the dead crew members with ‘their frozen faces upturned to the sun… staring, as if in fear… the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring ‘.

What Could The Cargo Hold That Caused The Explosive End Of The S.S. Ourang Medan?

There are many farfetched theories about the mysterious circumstances of the S.S. Ourang Medan and its demise. But one of the most logically sounding theories was brought forth by Professor Theodor Siersdorfer of Essen in Germany.  Theodor had dedicated 50 years to understand what happened to the S.S. Ourang Medan and its crew. Siersdorfer bases a lot of his findings of a German booklet published by Otto Mielke in 1954 which is called Das Totenschiffin der Südsee.

This booklet is supposedly said to have been authenticated by one of the rescue crew on the Sliver Star and states not only the name of the captain and the route of the ship but also that the cargo holds contained Potassium Cyanide and Nitroglycerin. These two chemicals are known to be highly dangerous and volatile which is why they are not recommended to be transported through rough seas which could cause explosions like with the S.S. Ourang Medan.

Could Sinister Chemical Weapons Be The Reason For The Horrifying Death Of The Crew?

Another strong theory about what happened to the crew of the S.S. Ourang Medan is related to biological weapons designed and manufactured by Japanese scientists led by Japanese bacteriologist called Shirō Ishii. Ishii was part of Unit 731 which was tasked to perform insidious experiments of American, British and Australian prisoners of war. These tests were even more sinister and insidious than the Nazi experiments.

The trials of Unit 731 were geared towards creating dangerous biological and chemical weapons to help Japan eliminate its enemy. The theory for the death of the crew of the S.S. Ourang Medan states that the experiments and biological weapons of Unit 731 were being discreetly shipped from the country which ended up leaking onto the ship, killing its crew and causing the final explosion that sunk the S.S. Ourang Medan.

Chemical Weapons

These were the two most probable theories about the S.S. Ourang Medan and its mysterious end. However, there are also other theories which don’t have as much evidence as these which include UFOs, methane bubbles, and the boiler room fire. Anyone who really knew of what happened to the S.S. Ourang Medan didn’t come forward which has caused this tragic event into one of the most famous ghost ship stories in recent times.

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