The ocean is a vast, mysterious frontier, and even though thousands of ships navigate its waters every day, from time to time tragedy strikes and leaves behind little more than a mystery- no wreckage, no survivors, just a haunting sense of
What Exactly Happened?
But other times tragedy strikes and leaves behind a plethora of evidence, all pointing at sinister and unbelievable conclusions.
Greatest Mysteries- today we’re taking a look at the ghost ship Ourang Medan.
Ghost ships have been a stable of maritime folklore for centuries, and something we like to pretend we no longer believe in.
However, sometimes fate tests that disbelief, pushing back the boundaries of our knowledge
and our confidence in science and reason over
The Ourang Medan is one of those tests, a
mystery tempting us with an answer we may
find too terrifying to accept.
Reports vary on the start of the Ourang Medan
mystery, with some placing it in June of 1947 and others in February of 1948.
Whatever the date, the saga of the Ourang Medan began with an emergency distress call
over morse code intercepted by various vessels
in the Straits of Malacca, near Sumatra and Malaysia.
The message was split into two parts, with
undecipherable morse code in between each.
The first part read:
“All Officers, including the Captain, are dead.
Lying in chartroom and bridge.
Possibly whole crew dead.”
Gibberish followed, though given the context of the second message it may have been the fading attempts of a dying man to communicate, as the second message simply read: “I die.”
Nothing followed after this transmission, but two American commercial ships decided to respond.
With the aid of British and Dutch listening posts the coordinates of the vessel were triangulated and a course was set.
The identity of the stricken vessel was also
ascertained as being the Dutch freighter S.S.
The American merchant ship, the Silver Star,
immediately made way for the coordinates and
several hours later the look-out spotted the
The ship was discovered to be drifting aimlessly with no power to the motors and no visible crew, though there appeared to be no damage to the vessel.
Pulling alongside it, the crew of the Silver Star called out to the Medan but received no response.
Radio contact was attempted with the same eerily silent response.
Forming a boarding party, the Captain of the
Silver Star prepared to board the vessel.
What greeted the sailors upon boarding the
Medan was like a scene from a horror movie, and proved the SOS message to be very accurate.
Dead sailors littered the deck of the ship, each man found with their faces frozen in wide-eyed horror and twisted in terror.
Their bodies had begun to decay abnormally
fast, and rigor mortis had locked their arms in positions that made it seem as if the crew had died fending some nightmarish attacker off.
The single animal on board the ship, a pet dog, had not escaped the grisly fate and was found with a savage snarl frozen on its face.
A further search of the vessel found the Captain on the bridge in a similar condition, and the bodies of the Bridge Officers were discovered in the wheelhouse and Chartroom, perhaps trying to barricade themselves from whatever monstrous fate had befallen the rest of the crew.
The engineering crew, also at their stations
below deck, were discovered with the same
frozen look of terror, arms stiff and fending off their attacker.
Lastly, the radio operator who presumably sent the distress call was discovered still at his station, likely having died there just moments after sending the SOS.
The Silver Star’s search party made several notes about their discoveries aboard the Ourang Medan.
Firstly, not a single crew member had any visible injuries to speak of, though it was clear by their twisted expressions and frozen limbs that they had suffered greatly, perhaps even been engaged in some sort of bloodless violence.
The bodies were also decaying much faster than they should be, rigor mortis had locked
limbs in place almost as if they had never had a chance to lose muscle control and fall to the floor.
The rest of the ship was found in good condition with no apparent signs of damage or disaster, though strangest of all was the still operational boiler room- despite temperatures of over 130 degrees (54 Celsius), the crew felt a sudden chill in this location.
Deciding to tow the ship back to port for investigation and salvage, the Silver Star secured tow lines when suddenly smoke was
discovered below decks in the number four
Fire quickly followed, and the boarding party
made haste to their own ship before severing
the tow lines.
The moment the lines were cut, the ship exploded with a force so violent it lifted it out of the water before slipping beneath the waves.
Whatever secrets the ship may have held disappeared as it sunk, and the first official mention of the incident was made in Dutch newspapers in 1948, and later in a US Coast Guard report in 1952.
Publishing eyewitness testimony about the state of the crew, the report said that the crew were discovered
“their frozen faces upturned to the sun… staring, as if in fear…
the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring.”
What could have taken the lives of an entire ship’s crew so quickly without leaving any wounds behind?
Some speculate that the cargo hold was loaded
with potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin, which would have accounted for the sudden
smoke and explosion.
But neither would account for the crew- which
is where some believe, things get more sinister
as some speculate that the ship was secretly
carrying cargo from Japanese military Unit 731.
Infamous for their chemical and biological experiments during World War II, Unit 731 routinely carried out horrific experiments on live American and Chinese POWs, including once tying prisoners to stakes in concentric
circles around a live grenade which was then
By studying the wounds suffered, the Japanese
honed their surgical skills and learned to make better anti-personnel explosives.
Some allege that the Ourang Medan was carrying equipment or personnel from Unit 731 when suddenly an accidental release of some ghastly chemical or biological agent affected the entire crew.
As wanted war criminals, any surviving members of Unit 731 may have had motivation for keeping the ship’s identity a secret, which would account for one of the most contentious pieces of the Ourang Medan account- the ship was never listed on any known registries at the
Skeptics also point out that the Silver Star was also not on any known registries, although this is inaccurate as the ship was in fact at the time operating under a different registration:
the Santa Juana after the Grace Line shipping
company bought rights to the ship and renamed it.
Many skeptics still disbelief the case of the Ourang Medan, yet if the ship was in fact carrying secret and dangerous materials it
would certainly have been prudent to keep its name off official records.
Most curious of all however is that the ship was mentioned in a private letter years later by C.H. Marck, the assistant to the Director of the CIA.
The letter which was declassified by the CIA only recently was addressed to an unknown
individual who’s name remained redacted, and
is dated December 5, 1959.
In the letter Marck explains the events, from
discovery of the crew to the mysterious explosion, followed by the statement,
“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.”
[Include screenshot of letter found at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R000300010043-5.pdf]
Marck also goes on to highlight what he calls
“alarming” passages in old English chronicles,
and talks about the sightings of huge fiery
spheres rising from or disappearing into the
sea by ship captains and crews.
Most chilling of all however is the question
Marck poses to the unknown recipient:
“Do you think “something from the unknown” is involved?”.
At the end of the letter, he then asks “the
enchanting sea, what terrifying “secret”
does it hold?
I feel sure that the S.S. Ourang Medan tragedy
also holds the answer to this “secret”.
What exactly did Marck mean by “something
from the unknown” being involved?
What “secret” was he inferring to?
Why did he place both in quotation marks?
Why was the assistant to the director of the CIA concerned by a simple ghost ship story,
and who was this mysterious recipient who’s
identity the CIA has kept classified?
If the Ouran Medan was nothing more than a
tall sea tale, why was the most powerful intelligence agency in the world interested in the story?
What do you think happened to the Ourang Medan?
Why was the CIA interested?
Let us know in the comments.
Also, be sure to check out our other articles:
Thomas Musgrave Castaway Story – The men that was lost an island for 18 months.
Thanks for reading, and as always, please
don’t forget to share.