Tales of mysterious events at sea are among history's most intriguing mysteries. Ghost ships are popular subjects, with the Mary Celeste being perhaps the most famous. But what of those that leave no traceable, tangible evidence of their existence, not even a rusted hull at the bottom of the ocean? Such is the case with the Ourang Medan.
The SS Ourang Medan was a Dutch freighter that disappeared without a trace in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Indonesia in June 1947, though some accounts move the incident up to February 1948. Its disappearance was preceded by a series of disturbing SOS calls. "All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge,” the first message read. "Possibly whole crew dead." A string of indecipherable Morse Code followed, concluding with the final eerie message, "I die."
One of the ships to pick up and respond to this chilling distress call was the American vessel Silver Star. When the crew of the Silver Star arrived and boarded the seemingly unharmed Ourang Medan, they were greeted with a ghastly discovery. The entire crew was indeed dead. The captain, crewmen, even the ship's dog, all dead. While none were injured, all appeared to have died in a state of sheer terror, some with arms outstretched, their eyes still open, mouths agape, and faces frozen in expressions of absolute horror. Oddly, too, they all lay with their faces turned toward the sun. When the search party entered the boiler room they encountered an unnatural chill, despite the high temperature of the room.
The crew of the Silver Star began immediately preparing to tow the vessel back to port, but it was too late. Smoke had begun pouring up from below deck. A fire had erupted in the hold, and the search party quickly disembarked and returned to the Silver Star. Moments later the Ourang Medan exploded and sank.
To this day it is unclear what happened to the Ourang Medan. The wreckage of the vessel was never recovered and there were no bodies on which to perform autopsies. What makes the case even more baffling is that the Ourang Medan does not appear in any Dutch shipping records. There is no known record of the vessel in writing. For all intents and purposes, the SS Ourang Medan never existed.
But as with all mysterious disappearances theories still abound, ranging from fanciful stories of ghosts and aliens to more plausible proposals of sabotage or an on-board accident. It is the latter of these more realistic explanations that is the current leading hypothesis. It has been proposed that the demise of the Ourang Medan and her crew was caused by a gas leak; the vessel may have been used to transport illegal nerve agents and her absence from the registries was a cover-up by unscrupulous smugglers. But unless said registries or the ship herself surface, all we are left with are theories.
With an event this unusual, theories will likely flow indefinitely with no resolution. And perhaps the story isn't true at all, but the product of an overactive and macabre imagination. But whether a bizarre true account or just a ghost story, the story of the Ourang Medan will continue to fascinate, intrigue, and frighten mystery lovers for decades to come.