Case Studies
SS Ourang Medan: Mystery of a Ghost Ship

SS Ourang Medan: Mystery of a Ghost Ship

SS Ourang Medan was supposed to be a ghost ship according to some sources that became infamous during the period 1947-1948. It got shipwrecked in Dutch East Indies, now modern Indonesia, in the Strait of Malacca waters. It is one of the mysteries that is still unsolved. 

It was in June 1947, when two American vessels navigating the Strait of Malacca, the City of Baltimore and Silver Star, among others, picked up distress messages from a Dutch merchant ship the SS Ourang Medan. A radio operator aboard the troubled vessel sent the following message in Morse code: “All officers, including the captain, are dead. Lying in the chartroom and bridge. Possibly the whole crew is dead”.

This was followed by a flurry of Morse code, then a final, grim two words, “I die”. The message was received by the crew of a nearby ship, the Silver Star from a signaler.

What Happened When Silver Star Offered Help?

The captain of Silver Star decided to offer help as it was the nearest ship to Ourang Medan and was the first one to reach there. They sent signals to the Ourang Medan and shouted for the response, but there was nothing more than the silence. Silver Star suspected that there must be something wrong on the ship, therefore they sent signals to the rescue team and asked for their help.

The rescue team reached the Medan where the rescuers were greeted by a horrible sight. The entire ship was littered with horrified dead bodies of the dutch crew. The ship floor was flooded with the blood and the dead bodies were frozen.

All of them had bulging eyes, and terrified expressions on their faces with their mouths wide open as if they were screaming, and their arms were outstretched as if they were reaching for something. None showed signs of injury that could have caused their deaths. In fact, the frozen corpse of a dog was also found on the ship. The view was so horrific and appeared as if a dead ship was led by a dead captain.

It was just the beginning of the mystery that soon a fire broke out in the ship which forced the rescuers to evacuate the board. The rescuers attached a towline to the Medan but as the fire took a formidable form, Silver Star cut that line and a huge explosion in the Medan ship took place.

The explosion was so extreme that the whole ship sank in the ocean without leaving a minute trace of it. And this is how the mystery still continues.

Story of Ourang Medan in Limelight

This incident came into light when a series of three articles in the Dutch-Indonesian newspaper ‘De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad’ on February 3, 1948 mentioned a story about the Ourang Medan with two photographs.

However, the name of the ship that found the Ourang Medan was never mentioned in the article but the location of the encounter was said to be 400 nautical miles southeast to the Marshall Island. The second and third articles describe the experiences of the sole survivor of the Ourang Medan crew, who was found by an Italian missionary and natives on Taongi Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The survivor told the missionary that the ship was carrying the cargo of Oil of Vitriol and moving to Costa Rica from an unnamed Chinese port. According to him the crew perished because of the poisonous fumes that escaped from the boken cargo. After telling this much, the survivor died and the missionary narrated the whole incident to the author, Silvio Scherli of Trieste, Italy.

Several authors said that no record of Ourang Medan was found on the Lloyd’s Shipping Register. It’s said that the ship’s registry wasn’t found because it was actually registered in Sumatra and the vessel’s name translates to “Man from Medan”—Medan being a Sumatran island.

Suspicion on the Silver Star has been established by the author Roy Bainton because there was no record that this ship had gone to any such rescue. He assumed that the lack of information about the Medan ship on the part of Silver Star and the story of the incident is fictitious. No crew members of the Silver Star ever shared any relevant information with the media.

Theories About Its Dissappearence

There are a number of possible theories assumed by the researchers and investigators regarding the Ourang Medan incident, however the actual reason is still unknown.

Bainton and some other researchers assumed that the Ourang Medan might be involved in smuggling of the chemicals such as combination of potassium cyanide and nitroglycerine. And there might be a leakage of these chemicals which on reaction produced the poisonous fumes that caused asphyxia or poisoning to the crew members leading to their deaths.

Some assumed that carbon monoxide poisoning might be the reason for the deaths which was released from the burning of the leaking ship’s boiler and it also led to the fire resulting in destruction of the ship.  There have been stories which state that the ship might have been attacked by the pirates. But since no injuries were found on the dead bodies of the crew, therefore this conclusion can be excluded.

In Fact some people assumed that the ship might be haunted by a ghost who killed the crew members as the expressions found on the faces of dead crew members resembled fearful experiences. Hence, the ship was named ‘The Ghost Ship’ but this is also a baseless assumption.

A lot of research and investigation has been conducted regarding this incident but still the Ourang Medan remains a mystery. 

The incident has been presented to the people in the form of movies such as Ghostbusters(2016) and Jailakung 2(2018). In 2019 a video game was launched based on the Ourang Ship tragedy and named- ‘ ‘The Dark Pictures of Anthropology: Man of Medan’.

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