The Haunting Tale of S.S. Ourang Medan

For centuries legends of ghost ships have fascinated the masses. Haunting true stories of the Mary Celeste and Flying Dutchman perpetuate an age-old mystery. There are countless cases of unnerving oceanic anomalies, as seen in film, literature and through oral recollections. One of the most disturbing of such tales is that of the S.S. Ourang Medan. Her ultimate fate is nothing less than bizarre and continues to perplex modern-day mariners.


Located in the Indian Ocean, between Malaysia and Sumatra, is a trade route known as the strait of Malacca. Each day nearly two hundred and thirty ships navigate this narrow stretch of sea. It is one of the busiest ports in the world responsible for transporting a quarter of the world’s traded goods. Pirates plagued the area for years and stories of vanishing boats added to Malacca’s mystique. One particular vessel would give the channel a chilling reputation which remains over seven decades later.

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The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest ports in the world.

In June of 1947 passing barges received a series of troubling SOS signals. While the source of the call was unknown their message was clear and concise: “All officers including captain are dead, lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” Following the distressing message was an eruption of Morse code tones which could not be deciphered. A final bone chilling statement was then made: “I die,” accompanied by a deafening silence.

All nearby ships were instructed to remain alert and report anything unusual to authorities. Despite the cooperation of many seafarers, nothing out of the ordinary was initially discovered. Dutch and British commanders worked hastily to triangulate precisely where the alerts had been transmitted from. They were able to pinpoint Ourang Medan in a remote part of the ocean, miles away from all established shipping lanes.

An American merchant vessel, Silver Star (formerly known as Santa Cecilia), was closest to the estimated location. Crew members immediately set off on an altered course and headed towards the distressed boat since its message had been so dire. Only a few hours later she was visible drifting aimlessly on the horizon line. Upon closer inspection of the hull it became apparent that there was not any visible external damage. Several attempts were made to contact the occupants to no avail.

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S.S. Silver Star was the closest ship to Ourang Medan’s estimated location.

When the apprehensive rescue party embarked the ship they were greeted by a nightmarish scene. Littering the deck were dozens of corpses. Each man had an expression of sheer terror with bulging, panic-strickened eyes and mouths agape in silent screams. Every deckhand’s arms and legs were extended in distorted positions as if they were trying to fight some unknown source. Even the resident dog had his lips peeled back in an aggressive teeth-exposing snarl.

Silver Star’s squadron anxiously meandered through the interior. Inside of the bridge they found the captain’s body. Remaining officers were discovered dead in the wheel house and chart room. Engineering staff remained at their designated stations and the operator who made the initial emergency call was sprawled out over his transmitter. Just like their comrades on the upper deck, these men also had looks of utter horror and bizarre limb contortions. While it was obvious all crew members had suffered agonizing deaths, it remained uncertain what caused such grisly demises.

Equally mystifying was the state of the deceased. Although an SOS had been recently made, the bodies were decomposing at an alarmingly unnatural rate. Even stranger was the frigid temperature engulfing the entire barge. During that hot summer day temperatures had reached well over one hundred degrees. Readings performed upon the schooner revealed a bone-chilling forty degrees. The entire search team were completely perplexed as to what had happened to those poor souls aboard Ourang Medan.

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Temperature readings performed on the vessel were over 60°F lower than the surrounding area.

A decision was ultimately made to tow the watercraft back to port. However, shortly after departing smoke began to billow from the tethered boat’s lower deck cargo hold. Immediately a quick-witted commander cut the connecting rope. That critical decision would save countless innocent lives. Within seconds Medan exploded with such tremendous intensity that she was propelled from the water. Pieces of the vessel began to break apart as she sank into the murky abyss, never to be seen again.

Since this enigmatic occurrence countless investigators have searched for answers. Some have made connections to the infamous Philadelphia Experiment and suggest covert military testing is to blame. Others speculate that the ship was transporting Tabun, an extremely toxic nerve-suppressing chemical manufactured during World War II. Skeptics question whether these events ever took place.

An official US Coast Guard report was released in a May 1952 issue of Proceedings of the Merchant Marine. As time continues to pass the truth of Ourang Medan becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain. She and her crew took their secrets with them when they descended into the dismal depths. With modern sonar technology constantly evolving the wreckage may eventually surface. Until that day arrives, this is a case that will ultimately remain unsolved.

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With advancing technologies are we getting closer to discovering the shipwreck?

What do you think happened to Ourang Medan? Share your theories in the comment section, I’d love to hear other opinions on this mysterious topic. 

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