Fact or Fiction? The Mystery Of The SS Ourang Medan
The Straits of Malacca, Malaysia–Sometime between June 1947 and February 1948, the American Merchant ship, the Silver Star, received a distress signal from the SS Ourang Medan. By the time they caught up with the vessel, what they found was beyond belief, if not beyond description.
Although we generally stick to verifiable history on I Like History, at least history that is generally agreed upon, the story of the SS Ourang Medan teeters on the wall between legend and science.
It’s worthy of consideration at least, even if not to wonder why someone would fabricate such an elaborate hoax. Like most mysteries, every answered question leads to another question, until one stops asking. The story begins with the distress signal.
The message was in two parts, separated by babbling morse code, but the two parts together were clear enough:
“All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead. … I die.”
That was the last we heard from the Ourang Medan. The Silver Star triangulated the Dutch freighter, using British and Dutch listening posts, locating it in the Straits of Malacca.
With coordinates in hand, the captain of the Silver Star made no hesitation navigating to the coordinates. As expected, they found the distressed boat and pulled alongside.
True to the S.O.S., there were no signs of life onboard the Medan.
The Ourang Medan
It was a hot day in the waters off Malaysia, at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, when the Silver Star crew unloaded onto the Ourang Medan.
The bodies of her Dutch crew covered the deck of the ship, not only with the dead, but the dead wearing facial expressions frozen in gruesome terror. They were bug-eyed with their mouths wide-open as if they’d died in horror.
The official report would read:
“their frozen faces upturned to the sun… staring, as if in fear… the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring.”
What was bizarre about the dead was there were no injuries to report. The only thing the crew from the Silver Star noticed was that the bodies were already in an advanced state of decay. Some bodies had their hands up as if they’d been fighting or shielding themselves.
On the bridge of the ship, they found the captain, also dead, but no crew. They were in the chartroom and wheelhouse of the ship.
The man who sent the distress call, the radioman, was still at his post. All of them had faces twisted in the same apparent terror.
The Silver Star crew, noting only that there was an odd chill on the ship despite the scorching heat of the Straits, set about to tow the Medan. Someone would need to recover the bodies, and the ship was salvageable.
The Silver Star crew hooked up a tow rope and were about to pull the vessel when a fire broke out on the Medan. The #4 cargo hold was ablaze, forcing the remaining Silver Star crew off the boat.
Without further warning, the Ourang Medan exploded with such force it lifted out of the water and slammed back down on the surface, sinking out of sight.
The holes in the story of the Ourang Medan only highlight that something happened, but what it was we may never know.
In one account, published in a Dutch paper in 1948, doesn’t mention the Ourang Medan and has the location in a different place.
In two subsequent mentions in the same paper, they mention the boat and a sole survivor, a German man found on the Marshall Islands. That thread is the source of the hazardous contents theory, which we’ll come back to.
Another loose end is that no ship by the name Ourang Medan existed, either because it didn’t exist or because it was a covert operation and needed to not appear to exist.
The German survivor of the ship told his story to a missionary on the Marshall Islands. In his account, the Ourang Medan was en route from China to Costa Rica, carting sulphuric acid.
That would explain the deaths, but not the explosion. Had the ship also been carrying nitroglycerin, the sea water could have mixed with it to cause the explosion. One theory captures this possibility, albeit it a stretch.
In another theory, the Japanese were transporting nerve gas for the United States, a transaction that had to be covert so there would be no implication of the United States with nerve gas.
Another theory explains a more simple reason for the deaths and explosion. A malfunction in the ship’s boiler could have poisoned the crew with carbon monoxide. In time, such a leak could have caused an explosion too.
And, of course, the paranormal folks have their own versions of what happened.
With so many accounts, it seems that some piece of history took place in the Straits of Malacca, but what happened, the sea swallowed for all time… unless someone can find evidence of the Medan.
The story of the Ourang Medan remains a historical mystery.