The Ghost Legend of the S.S. Ourang Medan

Titanic objects sometimes disappear, that’s the truth. And sometimes, as with the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the object’s absence becomes such a point of fascination that it transcends reality, to become something of legend.

What really happened to the plane? Where is it? Why is it that even now, in the Internet era, such objects can still disappear?

OurangMedanAnswers remain elusive, yet the fact remains, titanic objects disappear. Take for another example the tale spinning wildly around the S.S. Ourang Medan, a Dutch cargo ship that shipwrecked in Indonesia after every member of the crew suspiciously died. (Which would make such a sweet story for a ghost ship Halloween costume!)

Here’s the story:

In June 1947, while navigating the Strait of Malacca, two American vessels, City of Baltimore and Silver Star, received a Morse code distress message from the Ourang Medan. The message said, “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” The message was followed by indecipherable Morse code, and then a final message of “I die.”

Silence followed. No more messages were received.

Immediately the Silver Star sought out the distressed ship, finding it undamaged floating on open waters. Inside, corpses (including a deceased dog) were littered throughout the ship, all posed in terrified positions, arms outstretched toward the sky as if reaching for something. Worse still, the ship and corpses showed no signs of struggle or fight. So what happened?

Well, the answer remains unknown. Soon after boarding the ship, rescuers fled. A fire broke out in the ship’s cargo hold and eventually caused the ship to explode and sink. Whatever happened remains mystery.

But there are a few theories:

1) Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Vincent Gaddis, in the novel Invisible Horizons, puts forth a theory that an undetectable fire or malfunctioning boiler system might have poisoned the crew with excess carbon monoxide. That same fire or boiler malfunction may have even been the fire that caused the ship to explode and sink. A worthy theory, but there are others.

invisible horizons

2) Unsecured Hazardous Material – Details about the Ourang Medan’s construction or history are non-existent. Moreover, searches for an official registration or accident investigation record have proved unsuccessful. For these reasons – and others – Roy Bainton, in the article A Cargo of Death, argues that the ship may have been smuggling illegal substances or wartime nerve agents. He believes that sea water leaked into the cargo hold, reacted with the hazardous material, released asphyxiating or poisonous fumes, and thus killed the crew. And maybe there was some nitroglycerin or something in there for the final explosion. Who knows.

3) Paranormal Phenomena – Here’s the creepiest theory of all: some argue that the Ourang Medan came under paranormal of extraterrestrial attack, citing the terrified positions of the dead and how the arms were reaching toward the sky. Maybe something was up there worthy of being terrified of? Rumors claim that some of the deceased were even pointing upward.

It’s hard to say for certain what caused the death of an entire ship, but it’s clear that some things in the world will forever remain a mystery, even with all of this advanced technology.

But really, isn’t life a little sweeter with some morbid mystery in it?

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