SS Ourang Medan

Ayanna Smith

At some point around June of 1947, ships navigating the Strait of Malacca picked up a distress message from the SS Ourang Medan, a Dutch merchant ship. The message, in Morse code, read:

All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead…

Then, following a flurry of unintelligible dots and dashes, came the final two words:

I die. 

Nothing more was ever heard…

Though the exact year varies from source to source, the supposed tragedy of the SS Ourang Medan is said to have occurred sometime within the 1940s—1940, 1947 or 1948—though the majority of sources credit 1947 as the most likely date. 

Rescuers—who boarded the ship following the chilling Morse code message—found the vessel exactly as described: every single one of the crew were dead. The ship was littered with corpses.

The crew, however, wasn’t just dead—they were all dead in the exact same position. Every last one was found laying on their backs, frozen stiff, faces upturned in expressions of mock surprise, eyes wide with horror. Their arms were raised, almost as if they were attempting to fight off whatever it was that killed them.

The victims all seemed to resemble horrific shop-window mannequins.

A deceased crew member of the Ourang Medan found in the ship’s boiler-room. 

It is reported that the ship’s dog was discovered just the same: frozen stiff, paws raised and eyes wide with shock. Even the radio operator, thought to have sent out the doomed SOS message, was found frozen with fear.

The rescuers also described that the deceased crew seemed to all be turned towards the sun. 

Right as the Ourang Medan was set to be towed back to land, a fire broke out from the cargo-hold, forcing the rescuers to flee. A short time later, the ship exploded, conveniently destroying any opportunity of further investigation.

So what actually happened to the Ourang Medan?

Those who believe in the existence of the ship to begin with, have often put forth the theory of poisoning and asphyxiation.

Among these theories, it is supposed that sea water might have entered the ship, reacting with an unknown cargo to release a toxic gas. Gas that would later ignite, hence the bizarre explosion. 

Another theory suggests that the ship was transporting nerve agents from China (where the Japanese had stored them during the war) to the United States, explaining both the mysterious circumstances of the ship’s destruction, and the reason that it has never been mentioned on official documents. With this theory, it is thought that the U.S. government attempted to hide the tragedy of the Ourang Medan, smothering it with the facade of folklore.

Whether fact or fiction, the mystery of the Ourang Medan is truly a chilling tale