In June of 1947, multiple ships traversing the trade routes of Malacca, which is located between Sumatra and Malaysia, claimed to have picked up a series of SOS distress signals. The unknown ship’s message was as simple as it was disturbing:
“All officers including captain are dead, lying in chart room and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” This communication was followed by a burst of indecipherable Morse code, then a final, grim message: “I die.” This cryptic proclamation was followed by tomb-like silence.
The crews that received the message were able to triangulate the source of these broadcasts and deduced that they were likely emanating from a Dutch freighter known as the SS Ourang Medan. A merchant ship known as the Silver Star was closest to the presumed location of the Ourang Medan – 400 nautical miles south-east of the Marshall Islands. Within hours, the Silver Star caught sight of the Ourang Medan rising and falling in the choppy waters of the Malacca Strait.
As the merchant craft neared the ill-omened vessel, the crew noticed that there was no sign of life on the deck. The men on the Silver Star began to call out and motion to the Ourang Medan. There was no response. The Captain of the Silver Star assembled a boarding party. The brave men boarded the ship and made a grizzly discovery.
The decks of the vessel were littered with the corpses of the Dutch crew; their eyes wide, their arms grasping at unseen assailants, their faces twisted into revolting visages of agony and horror. Even the ship’s dog was dead; it’s once intimidating snarl frozen into a ghastly grimace. The boarding party found the Captain’s remains on the bridge, while his officers’ cadavers were strewn about the wheelhouse and chartroom. The communications officer was still at his post, as dead as the rest, his fingertips resting on the telegraph. All of the corpses, according to reports, bore the same terrified, wide-eyed expressions as the crew on deck.
The temperature outside was 110°F, but the search party reported feeling a cold chill in the nadir of the hold. The Captain of the Silver Star decided that they would tether themselves to the Ourang Medan and tow it back to port, but as soon as the crew attached the tow line to the Dutch ship they noticed ominous billows of smoke pouring up from the Number 4 hold. The boarding party scarcely had a chance to cut the towline and make it back to the Silver Star before the Ourang Medan exploded with such tremendous force that it lifted itself from the water and swiftly sank. The crew watched the Dutch vessel disappear beneath the briny depths.
Nobody knows what happened to the SS Ourang Medan except for the crew who now rest at the bottom of the ocean. However, there are many theories.
The Ship Never Existed
Some researchers have speculated that if the Ourang Medan was a genuine ship it likely hailed from Sumatra, which at the time was a colony of the Netherlands in what was referred to as a the Dutch East Indies. “Ourang” is Indonesian for “man” and “Medan” is the biggest city on the island of Sumatra, which would designate this enigmatic freighter the “Man from Medan.” But, while the etymology of the name might give some clue as to its origin, there are no bureaucratic records of the Ourang Medan. One thing is for certain. There is evidence that the Silver Star existed and the men all reported this incident.
Unit 731 – Dangerous Cargo
Unit 731 was founded in 1932 by a Japanese bacteriologist named Shirō Ishii. Unit 731′s brief was to find a chemical, gas or biological weapon to win the war. Hideous, inhumane experiments were carried out on helpless Australian, American, Russian, Chinese and British prisoners — some of the worst war crimes ever committed. The theory goes that Unit 731 decided to use a slow and inconspicuous vessel – the Dutch freighter – to transport this treacherous cargo for reasons of both safety and concealment. Theorists surmised that sea water could have entered the ship’s hold, reacting with the perilous cargo to release poisonous gases, which then caused the crew to suffocate. At this point the onrushing salt water might have reacted with the nitroglycerin, creating the explosive effect that was said to cause the ship’s ultimate demise.
The dubious proof, which supporters of the paranormal option use to confirm their theory, is the evident lack of a natural cause for the deaths as well as the purportedly petrified expressions etched onto the faces of the doomed sailors. Claims stretch from UFO invasions to undead pirates. There is scant evidence for a supposed interaction with these phantoms.
The idea that the deaths were natural is supported with the theory that the crew of the Ourang Medan was asphyxiated by clouds of noxious methane that gurgled up from a fissure on the sea floor and poisoned the sailors before eventually engulfing the ship. Another idea is that an unobserved fire or failure in the ship’s boiler system might have been responsible for the demise of the vessel. Carbon monoxide could have leaked up causing the deaths of all aboard while the fire slowly grew; eventually igniting the fuel and causing the craft to explode.
One sound theory goes that the ship was boarded by pirates and the crew was killed. The most practical supporting evidence for this theory would have been the discovery of how the men were killed and what cargo had been taken. However, no proper investigation could take place due to the sinking of the ship.
The fact that there are no registration records for the Ourang Medan remains a troublesome detail. There have been many claims that records may have been eradicated by a savvy group of governmental conspirators due to the nature of the ships mission. Whatever the truth is behind this unfathomable tragedy, it remains one of the most perplexing and downright scary maritime enigmas of the 20th Century