The Horror of the Ourang Medan

When you hear the story of the SS Ourang Medan you think, “This can’t possibly be real.”  The story is one of the ultimate horror film premises, a story as old as time and yet it happened to one Dutch Cargo ship in the wake of World War II when secrecy and diplomatic tensions were high as the secrets of the war spilled over the Atlantic into the US.  And yet somehow this story of horror and death is even more perplexing as the gruesome details are revealed.

Something happened that night in international waters as the Dutch ship SS Ourang Medan sent out a distress call received by several nearby ships.  The message was short, with parts of it indecipherable.  The captain was dead lying in the chartroom and the bridge alongside all other officers.  “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge.  Possibly whole crew dead.”  Frantically a morse code message came over the radio, but no one listening could place it.  Shortly after the words, “I die…” crackled over the radio.  Chilled, the crew of a nearby vessel stopped by to rescue any survivors onboard the SS Ourang Medan, but the horrifying details of what they found on board would haunt the would-be rescuers to their graves.

Though the distress signal had only been sent a few hours earlier, the ship was floating derelict in the ocean.  As the rescuers boarded, an eerie silence greeted them.  Only the sound of the radio and the eternal lapping of the sea could be heard as they investigated the bridge finding nothing but death all around them.  As they entered the cargo deck they noted that the dog too had died of unknown causes, but its face was transfixed into a snarl.  Everyone was found dead with their arms stiff and held out as though pointing or reaching out for something at the moment they died.  Every face they came across was transfixed in horror.  As they attempted to enter the cargo bay, a sudden explosion followed by a quickly spreading fire soon began consuming the ship.  No one could determine the cause, but there was no time to investigate it as the rescue team quickly cut their own vessel free of the quickly sinking ship and watched it plunge into the ocean.

Accounts of the ship’s attempted rescue and subsequent destruction vary slightly, but most of the facts presented here are generally agreed upon by most sources.  To date, a search through historical documents of the SS Ourang Medan turns up no such vessel.  The vessel Silver Star, which allegedly enacted the rescue attempt did exist according to Roy Bainton in his Fortean Times article “A Cargo of Death” about the vessel.

Could records of the ship have disappeared or been removed by some unknown party that wished to ensure the secret would stay at the bottom of the ocean forever?  What exactly was the cargo of the Ourang Medan?  Is it possible the ship could have been operating under a false name and actually been one of another other ships designed to carry an object so important to keep secret that it officially didn’t even exist?