Ghost ships have been a center of chatter in the folklore for centuries and something we like to pretend we no longer believe in, however, sometimes faith tests that disbelief pushing back the boundaries of our knowledge and our confidence in science over superstitions. The Ourang Medan is one of those tests, a mystery too terrifying to accept and will probably give you shivers.

Star Ship
A spooky SOS call was picked up by another ship. Credits: Malcolm Cranfield

The Message

A distress emergency message signal was picked up through morse code by two American vessels navigating the Straits of Malacca, the City of Baltimore and several others from a Dutch merchant ship Ourang Medan.

The message received was split into two parts with one undecipherable morse code between each. The first message read — “All officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” followed by gibberish and second message may have been the failing attempt of a dying man as it only read, “I die…”. Nothing followed after this transmission.


One of the American ships, Silver Star decided to respond to the S.O.S by Ourang Medan and after locating its coordinates, the crew of the Silver Star discovered the troubled ship to be totally undamaged, drifting aimlessly with no power to the motors and no visible crew.

Bodies found in Ourang Medan

The crew of the Silver Star called out to the Medan by using air horns, but no response was received in return. Radio messages were also sent without any luck. Later the captain of the Silver Star prepared the crew to board the Medan.

Upon boarding it, what the crew discovered was even more horrifying than a scene from a horror movie that proved the S.O.S message to be very true.

Body of crew members, with wide-opened eyes, twisted arms, and face locked at the moment of terror and bodies decaying abnormally fast was the scene on the deck of the Ourang Medan. This horrible death of the crew seemed to be caused by some nightmarish attacker, even the only animal on-board, a pet dog was found in a similar position with frozen eyes and stiffed body.


Exploring more of the Medan, the bridge officers were found in the wheelhouse and chart room, perhaps trying to barricade themselves from whatever monster was trying to kill them. The engineering crew, stationed below the deck were also found in a similar look of terror on their face and arms stiffed as they have been the moment before their death. The body of the radio operator who likely sent the S.O.S message was also discovered.

Several points were taken out of the horrifying incident on the Ourang Medan, firstly none of the bodies had a single injury and with the look of twisted arms and horrifying look on the face proved that they have suffered greatly before dying and the bodies were decaying much faster than usual. It was also noted out that the ship was undamaged on its discovery.

The strangest of all was the still operational boiler room with a temperature over 130 degrees, the crew felt a sudden chill on this location.


The Sinking

When the crew of the Silver Star decided to tow the ship back to port for investigation and savage, a tow line was set up between the ships. But like if that wasn’t enough with the strangeness on Ourang Medan, a sudden fire was started below decks, in a hurry, the Silver Star crew cut off the tow line and quickly jumped off the Medan to save their lives. The moment lines were cut, the ship exploded so violently that it lifted water before sinking deep in the sea.

SS Ourang Medan
Many mysteries still surround the ship, how it came to ‘explode’ then sinking.

The Mystery

The incident of Ourang Medan happened in the year 1947, but it took 5 years before the first report came about the incident. The U.S Coast Guard report was published in the year 1952 with the testimony of the eyewitnesses for the state of the crew who died mysteriously on the Medan. The report said about the wide-opened eyes and frozen faces upwards and mouths gaping open when the crew bodies were discovered.

Some hypothesize that Ourang Medan might have been involved in smuggling operations of chemicals, such as a combination of potassium cyanide and nitroglycerine and or stock of nerve agents. According to these theories, seawater would have entered the ship’s hold and reacted with the cargo to release toxic gases which caused the crew to succumb to asphyxia or poisoning and the reaction with potassium cyanide and nitroglycerine resulting in the explosion.

Another very mysterious thing about the Ourang Medan was that it was never listed in any known registry of that time.


Involvement of CIA

Another curious theory related to the ship raised after the Ourang Medan was mentioned in a letter by the Assistant to the Director, C.H Marck addressed to the C.I.A. Within the letter, Marck asks the recipient of the letter if they believe the story of the Ourang deals with “something from the unknown”, to which he further elaborated the incident followed by saying “I feel sure that the S.S Ourang Medan tragedy holds the answer to many of these airplane accidents, and unsolved mysteries of the sea”.

A memo by C.H Marck Jr, assistant to the Director of the CIA Allen Dulles, in 1959

What Marck meant by the “unknown” or who was the recipient of the letter is still not known by anyone, but why C.I.A was interested in this incident surely raised curiosity amongst the conspiracy theorists. It is a known fact that the deep sea is still untouched and the many secrets still lie beneath its deep-deep down the surface, so is it possible that there was any “unknown” body involved with the S.S Ourang Medan incident? Or it all happened due to the illegal cargo on the ship? Well, there is no one alive to tell the whole story or how it happened, and even if there was any evidence on the ship, it is now buried in the deep ocean covered with oceanic fungi.


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