Ourang Medan was a Dutch merchant freighter.
Name means “Man from Medan” in either Malay or Indonesian.
Medan is the largest city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which at the time was still a Dutch colony.
Because of this, it is believed that the ship came from Sumatra.
In June of 1947, or maybe February 1948, the ship was sailing from a small, unidentified Chinese port to Costa Rica, perhaps with the intent of avoiding authorities.
Two American ships navigating the Strait of Malacca between Sumatra and Malaysia picked up distress calls from the Ourang Medan.
Received morse code message: “SOS from Ourang Medan. We float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead.” There were a few meaningless dots and dashes and then: “I die.” Nothing else after that.
The two ships used the assistance of a British and Dutch listening posts in the area to triangulate the coordinates of the Ourang Medan.
The Silver Star went to lend aid to the ship.
It took several hours to find the ship.
Once it was found, there didn’t seem to be any sign of a crew.
Communication efforts failed.
Found it undamaged.
The crew of the Silver Star boarded the Ourang Medan.
Littered with corpses, including a dog.
Bodies were on their backs with their faces upturned; mouths and eyes open and with horror-stricken faces, perhaps screaming.
Arms seemed to be fighting off some unseen threat.
No visible signs of injuries.
The captain was found on the bridge, bridge officers found in wheelhouse and chart room.
Radio operator was found at his station.
Engineering crew were found at their stations.
The outdoor temperature was around 100 degrees, and yet the search party found the ship to be rather cold.
When the search party returned to the Silver Star, they decided to tow the Ourang Medan for salvage.
Soon after tethering the tow rope, smoke was seen billowing from below decks.
A fire broke out in the number four cargo hold.
Boarding parties were forced to evacuate.
Just after the tow rope was cut, the ship exploded so forcefully it jumped out of the water, and then sank.
No further investigation could be conducted.
While there were rumors of the incident shared among salty dogs, there were no official reports until May of 1952, although this report was an official US Coast Guard report.
Many accounts of the story differ quite a bit.
There isn’t any great or reliable documentation of the event.
Ourang Medan was never registered and isn’t found in any record of seafaring vessels.
Officially, the ship didn’t exist and there is a lot of speculation about whether it was a real ship or not.
Just because the name was not registered doesn’t mean the ship’s name couldn’t have been unofficially changed and repainted or something.
The Silver Star was a real ship, though perhaps by the time of the incident (sometime in 1947) it had been acquired by the Grace Line shipping company and renamed the “Santa Juana.”
No mention of this incident in the Silver Star’s logbook.
No crew members of the Silver Star have ever come forward with the story.
Could have just been made up ghost story, or a story that started as one strange incident that snowballed as it was told over and over again, perhaps like stories of the Flying Dutchman.
Ship could have been purposely un-registered because of nefarious intentions.
One source states that there was potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin on board the ship, which are highly combustible.
To sail with these items would be highly negligent.
Would explain the explosion however.
This event took place just a few years after the end of World War II, so many have thought that this ship could have had something to do with the war, specifically with Unit 731.
Unit 731 was founded in 1932 by a Japanese bacteriologist named Shiro Ishii.
The intention was to create horrendous biological and chemical weapons for use by the Japanese military to decimate Japan’s enemies.
The biological experiments run by Unit 731 on prisoners of war are considered some of the worst war crimes in human history.
After the war, American General Douglas MacArthur covertly granted immunity to Unit 731, so long as they shared their research with the US government.
It is thought that perhaps the US government commissioned a seemingly non-existent ship to safely and securely transport these materials.
Taking a plane would have been out of the question, as a plane crash with such materials would have had devastating effects.
It’s suggested that sea water entered the ship’s hold and reacted with the cargo, causing poisonous gases to be released, which suffocated the crew. An increase in the amount of salt water could have reacted with the nitroglycerin would have caused the explosion.
If the US government was in fact behind this, it makes sense to expunge all record of such a ship, particularly in light of the Geneva Convention and its restrictions on the use of biochemical weapons in warfare.
A UFO came upon the ship, killed the entire crew, and fled.
Explains the mysteriousness of the deaths, and the reason it appears as if crew members were fighting off an unseen attacker.
Doesn’t explain why the ship exploded or why this was just an isolated incident.
Boiler room fire
An unobserved fire or other such problem in the ship’s boiler system could have caused the incident.
A lot of ships at this time ran on coal for propulsion.
Burning coal pumps out a lot of carbon monoxide, which could have leaked up, suffocating the crew members.
Suffocation is a torturous way to die, so it could explain the tortured looks on the faces of the crew.
The boiler room fire then could have ignited the fuel and caused the eventual explosion.
Perhaps the crew was asphyxiated by clouds of methane bubbles that came up from a fissure on the seafloor.
This does not explain the explosion.
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