The sea has always been a mysterious and terrifying place for the human race. There’s just something about the featureless expanse of gray water that defies explanation. It’s a breeding ground for stories about monsters and paranormal experiences, from tales about “krakens” at the bottom of the ocean to famous ghost ships, like the Mary Celeste.
There’s another story of the likes of the Flying Dutchman and Mary Celeste that happened fairly recently, just seventy years ago, that has ship captains and conspiracy theorists and paranormal enthusiasts alike all scratching their heads. It’s the story of a Dutch freighter called Ourang Medan, a ship that, according to the rescue crew, murdered everyone on board.
The Distress Call
It was June of 1947 when two American ships, City of Baltimore and Silver Star were sailing in the South Pacific when they received an ominous SOS. It was coming from the S.S. Ourang Medan, located somewhere between Sumatra and Malaysia. A radio officer aboard the ship had sent out this message in Morse, desperately hoping someone in the area would hear:
“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 * * *.”
What the two American ships received next was a confused mess of unintelligible Morse code. Then, only two words could be made out:
After that, the line went dead.
Locating the Source
British and Dutch ships also responded to the distress call. Together, the British, Dutch, and American ships in the area managed to triangulate the location of the SOS and find the location of the ship.
Once it was located, the captain of the Silver Star charted his course for the ship in the hopes that he might find some of the crew still alive. A few hours later, the lookout spotted the Ourang adrift in the middle of the ocean. As a rescue boat was put together, the captain of the Silver Star tried to contact the Ourang’s crew, but to no avail. There were no signs of life, no indication that there was anyone on board at all.
So, the rescue ship was sent. What they found would give them nightmares in the years to come.
The Ship of Death
At first, when the crew of the Silver Star stepped aboard the Ourang, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. The first red flag was the deathly silence. But, as they began to explore, they found the decks littered with corpses – the Dutch crew.
The ship itself, however, was untouched, adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. While the ship itself was extremely hot, cataloged as being well above 100°F, the rescue team recalled that they felt curiously cold, as if there were a chill rising up from nowhere, swirling around them and threatening to freeze their lungs.
However, the mysterious chill was the least of their worries.
A Chilling Warning
The story only gets creepier from there. Each of the corpses the rescue team found with their faces frozen in expressions of abject horror, upturned toward the hot Pacific sun. Some of corpses were reported to have one or both arms outstretched, as if they were trying to defend themselves against an unknown assailant. Others described it as a warning, fingertips pointing toward the invisible being that attacked them, trying to warn the rescue crew away.
Even the ship’s dog was found stiff, teeth bared in a frozen snarl.
The rescue team found the captain on the bridge with the same expression on his face. The heroic radio operator who had sent the SOS in one last attempt to save everyone on board the ship was found at his station, fingers still on the controls, face twisted in terror and pain.
It Doesn’t Add Up…
The look on the faces of the deceased crew wasn’t the only strange thing about the bodies. Though each person had twisted limbs and faces, as if they had experienced an extremely painful death, none of them had any signs of struggle or injuries. There were no knife cuts, burns, bruises, or bullet holes. Their skin was clear, and not blue or red from asphyxiation from a gas, either.
Beyond that…the bodies seemed to be decaying at an alarming rate, far faster than they should have been.
The Salvage Attempt
With nothing left to do, the captain of the Silver Star decided the best decision he could make was to tow the ship back for salvage. At least then the crew of the Ourang could be given a proper burial and the parts of the ship could be put to good use. The money made from the salvage could be divided between all the crews of the ships that heard the distress call.
The crew of the Silver Star attached a line to the Ourang and headed back to their own ship. Little did they know that the story of the Ourang Medan was not quite done.
First Signs of Disaster
As the Pacific sun began to sink below the horizon, the Silver Star was towing the Ourang Medan to shore. A few minutes after they left, the rescue team members still left on the Ourang noticed the smell of smoke.
Alarmed, they checked the ship and discovered smoke pouring from the No.4 cargo hold.
With no other options left to them, the remaining rescue team members abandoned ship and sped back to the Silver Star. They cut the tether, gained some distance between the two ships, and then waited.
Just a few seconds after the tether was cut, the Ourang Medan exploded into fire and smoke in the middle of the ocean. According to the crew watching, the blast propelled the ship out of the water for a second or two. Then, the ship slipped beneath the ocean and sank beneath the sea, burying the mystery of whatever caused the explosion and the horrific deaths of the crew on board forever.
What caused the explosion? What could be so volatile in Cargo Hold No.4 that it would spontaneously combust in the middle of the ocean? And, more mysteriously, what killed the crew of the Ourang Medan?
The Follow Up
For five years following the discovery, not a word was said about the Ourang Medan, its deceased crew, or the suspicious explosion following its discovery.
The only public and official report filed about the discovery of the ghost ship Ourang Medan was filed with the United States Coast Guard. It was made five years after the incident, and included the testimony of the rescue team that went on board the ship.
In the report, they wrote of the bodies, saying: “…their frozen faces upturned to the sun… staring, as if in fear… the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring”.
It sounded like a pretty compelling story, but was it real, or just an elaborate hoax?
Did the Ourang Medan Even Exist?
In the years after the report was published with the US Coast Guard, several have questioned its legitimacy. A few interviews were had with the British and Dutch ships who also answered the distress call, but none of them could give an answer one way or another, as they didn’t actually explore the wreck of the Ourang.
When Dutch cargo shipping registers were consulted, well, there is no record of the Ourang Medan or its crew.
Whose Ship Is It, Anyway?
Some have speculated that the ship wasn’t registered in the Netherlands at all, but actually in Sumatra, which, at the time of the discovery of the Ourang, was a colony in the Dutch East Indies. Yet…the ship wasn’t registered in Sumatra, either. So, whose ship was it?
Well, some people have an insidious theory that it may have belonged to Japan. This theory might also explain the suspicious explosion.
Some theorists believe that the Ourang Medan was carrying lethal biological weapons in Cargo hold No.4. According to the conspiracy theorists, these were created by Japanese scientists during a set of secret experiments created by a specialized unit called Unit 731.
It was a Japanese department of secret researchers that was intent on discovering and manufacturing the most dangerous biological weapons they could. Unit 731 was created in 1932 by Japanese bacteriologist Shirō Ishii. This man stopped at nothing, conducting horrific experiments in the name of science during the World War II…anything that would give Japan the edge over the allies.
Was the Ourang secretly a Japanese ship, smuggling dangerous biological weapons into the Pacific? We’ll probably never know for sure, but that would explain the fumes, unusual heat, and violent explosion aboard the ship.
But, is there another explanation?
Of course, paranormal theorists have their own ideas about what happened aboard the Ourang Medan. The most popular theory is that the crew were harassed by a host of wrathful spirits that literally scared the crew to death and sucked the life from their bodies.
Others think that the crew saw something they couldn’t account for, something that was literally too strange for their minds to handle, like aliens or ghosts, and they all died of shock.
One man has given his life to solving the mystery of the Ourang Medan. His name is Professor Theodor Siersdorfer. He’s spent the last fifty years researching everything he can about the Ourang Medan, including the firsthand accounts from the Silver Star’s crew. He thinks the No.4 Cargo Hold contained several volatile, deadly chemicals, like potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin, which were responsible for the impending explosion. As of yet, though, his theory hasn’t been proven.
The Mystery Remains
It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened that fateful day in 1947, when the crew of the Ourang Medan supposedly died. If the ship ever existed at all, it’ll be impossible to determine what caused the death of the crew, since nothing remains of the exploded wreck, and there is no crew member left alive to tell the tale. It remains a mystery. At least if anything strange was on board with the crew that day, it’s buried at the bottom of the sea forever.
What do you think happened? Did the ship exist at all? Was it chemical warfare, a conspiracy, or something stranger?