Ourang Medan, Ghost Ship
A True Ghost story
By Bobette Bryan
On June, 1947, four hundred nautical miles southeast of the Marshall Islands, two American merchant vessels, the City of Baltimore and Silver Star, picked up distress messages from the Dutch merchant ship SS Ourang Medan.
A radio operator aboard the troubled vessel sent the following Morse code message: “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.” Later two garbled words came through: “I die.”
No other messages followed.
Navigating the Strait of Malacca, the Silver Star crew located the distressed ship, which appeared to be undamaged. When they boarded the ship, a chilling scene greeted them. The deck was littered with corpses, including the ship dog. All of the deceased were sprawled on their backs, faces set in horror, mouths agape, open eyes gazing heavenward.
There were no survivors.
The rescue crew felt a peculiar chill though the temperature was near 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
They decided to tow the ship back to port for an in-depth investigation, but before they could get underway, smoke began rolling up from the hull.
A fire had broken out in the ship’s No. 4 cargo hold, forcing the boarding parties to evacuate. They barely had time to cut the tow lines before the Ourang Medan exploded then sank.
To this day, what happened aboard the ill-fated ship remains a mystery.
Theories abound. Some have hypothesized that Ourang Medan might have been smuggling dangerous chemicals such as a combination of potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin or even wartime stocks of nerve agents. If so, sea water could have entered the ship’s hold, reacting with the cargo to release toxic gas, which caused the crew to succumb to asphyxia and poisoning.
Later, the sea water would have reacted with the nitroglycerin, causing a fire and spectacular explosion.
Others believe that the ship was transporting nerve gas which the Japanese had been storing in China during the war. This gas was handed over to the U.S. military at the end of the war. No U.S. ship could transport it as it would leave a paper trail. It was, therefore, loaded onto a non-registered ship for transport to the States.
Another explanation is that an undetected fire or malfunction in the ship’s boiler system might have been the culprit. Escaping carbon monoxide would have caused the deaths of all aboard, and once the fire raged out of control, it would led to the vessel’s ultimate destruction.
Many have also postulated that the crew might have been attacked by UFOs or paranormal forces. Circumstantial evidence cited by these sources includes the apparent absence of a natural cause of death or injury, the reportedly terrified expressions on the faces of the deceased, and rumors that some of the dead were “pointing” towards an unknown enemy.
The ship itself poses a mystery. Several researchers have noted an inability to to find a mention of the ship or the incident in Lloyd’s Shipping Register. And no registration records for the ship have been located.
The lack of information on the sunken ship has given rise to suspicion about the origins and credibility of the account. Some believe that the accounts of the disaster could be inaccurate, exaggerated, or that the story is entirely fictitious.
However, a sole survivor of the Ourang Medan crew, a unnamed German man, was found by a missionary and several natives on Toangi atoll in the Marshall Islands. Before perishing, he claimed that the ship had been carrying a badly stowed cargo of sulphuric acid, and that most of the crew perished because of the poisonous fumes escaping from broken containers.
He claimed that the Ourang Medan was sailing from a small Chinese port to Costa Rica, in hopes of avoiding the authorities.
The missionary reported this to Silvio Scherli, who is said to have written a report published under Trieste, “Export Trade” on September 28, 1959.
Scherli stood by the authenticity of the story.
An earlier account of the story includes a series of three articles in the Dutch-Indonesian newspaper De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad on February 3, 1948.
Yet the ship remains steeped in mystery. We will likely never know exactly what happened aboard the Ourang Medan.
© 2015 Bobette Bryan