It’s the unknown that draws people. Mystery has its own mysteries, and there are gods above gods. We have ours, they have theirs. That is what’s known as infinity. Well, since time immemorial, maritime history has and is still full of tales of ghost ships and sea serpents. Honestly, not everything is true and accurate and if they are, chances of exaggerations and embellishment can’t be understated. There exists hot debate amongst believers and skeptics about accounts of these natures. While most of these tales originate from centuries ago, at least we have a recent one that we can relate. That’s the mysterious tragedy on the S.S Ourang Medan. Ghost ships are one thing, however, mystery of a ship with its entire crew dead onboard causes gossip churns like an undercurrent. Consequently, a legend comes into existence.
Up to date, the big question is whether the mysterious tragedy on the S.S. Ourang Medan really occurred or it’s just a legend. The SS Ourang Medan was a ghost ship which was reportedly a shipwreck in Dutch East Indies waters. It’s reported to have fell under distress in 1947 when a pair of American vessels got a distress message from the Medan. The sources are yet to be documented. However, depending on which report is accurate, it’s either in June 1947 or late February 1948 when a curious radio message was received by numerous ships traveling along the Straits of Malacca, situated around Sumatra and Malaysia. The message was divided into two parts separated by Morse code that has never been deciphered. The Morse code message stated “S.O.S from Ourang Medan *** we float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead * * *.” A few confused dots and dashes later two words came through clearly. They were “I die.” Then, nothing more. The Silver Star crew then plunged into rescue mission only to find the ship littered with corpses including a dog’s carcass sprawled on their backs. There were no signs of injuries on the frozen bodies as they laid facing the sun. Thereafter, a fire broke out in the ship’s cargo number 4 cargo hold. This lead to evacuation of Dutch freighter thus preventing further investigations. The Ourang Medan then exploded and sunk. The ship’s accident has appeared in various books and magazines mainly on Forteana. Details of the ship’s existence, the vessel’s construction and history remain unknown. Efforts to get any official registration of accident investigation recorded have been futile.
The story’s first appeared in a series of three articles in the Dutch-Indonesian newspaper in February 3, 1948, February 28, 1948 and March 13, 1948 respectively. Though there are significant differences, the story was very related to the later version. For instance, in the first article, the name of the ship that found the Ourang Medanis is not mentioned. However, the location of the encounter is approximated at around 400nautical miles southeast of the Marshall Islands. The second and third articles were about the experiences of the accident’s sole survivor of the Ourang Medan crew. It details that the man was found by a missionary and natives in the Marshall Islands. Before perishing he managed to narrate to the missionary about the details of the ship. According to this man, the ship was carrying a badly stowed cargo of sulphuric acid. He stated that upon the occurrence of the accident, the poisonous fumes from the broken containers were the main cause of most of the crew. From his story, the Ourang Medan was sailing from an unnamed small Chinese port to Costa Rica and deliberately avoided the authorities. Unfortunately, the sole survivor who was an unnamed German died shortly after narrating his story to the missionary.
Just as we could have expected, the mystery of the SS Ourang Medan led to development of several theories which include:
Unsecured hazardous goods cargo:
There are hypothesis that Ourang Medan was smuggling chemical substances or wartime stocks of nerve agents. There were allegations that it was carrying nerve gas which Japanese military had been storing in China during the war, which was given to U.S military after the war. A U.S. ship couldn’t transport it as it would leave a paper trail. This led to it being carried via non-registered ship for transport to U.S or Island in the Pacific.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning:
Failure to detect malfunction in the ship’s boiler could have led to the shipwreck. The escaping carbon monoxide could be the cause of the deaths leading to vessel’s destruction.
There were speculations that the ship could have been attacked by paranormal forces before their deaths. This was based on the absence of natural cause of death and the evident terrified expressions on faces of the deceased. There were also rumors that the crew were somehow pointing the unknown enemy’s direction.
This is the last but not the least theory about the whole story. It observes that those events never took place. This is due to lack of official records of SS Ourang Medan in either Lloyd’s Shipping register, Dutch authorities or in the dictionary of disasters at sea 1824-1962. According to this theory, the act of the radio operator to sense and say he is going to die is suspicious as there was no evidence of sensible reasons.
When all is said and done, one thing remains certain, that whatever the truth is behind this miserable tragedy, it remains one of the most astonishing and downright scary maritime enigmas of this century. It may not be as famous as the other ghost ships to have sailed the high seas but it’s every bit a terrifying ordeal. Ultimately, if anyone has information on what really happened to the SS Ourang Medan and her crew, then they should come out and talk about it.