Ghost Ship – Legend of SS Ourang Medan

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The SS Ourang Medan was a ghost ship which, according to various sources, became a shipwreck in Indonesian waters after its entire crew had died under suspicious circumstances. Skepticism exists about the truthfulness of the story, suggesting that the ship may have never actually existed, but has become a legend.

Ghost Ship - Legend of SS Ourang Medan


Read also: Top 10 Mysterious Sea Creature


New evidence found by The Skittish Library shows there were 1940 newspaper reports of the incident taken from the Associated Press in British newspapers The Daily Mirror and The Yorkshire Evening Post. There were significant differences in the story, the location being the Solomon Islands, and the SOS messages different from later reports. The story still appears to originate with Silvio Scherzi in Trieste.

The earliest known English reference to the ship and the incident is in the May 1952 issue of the Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council, published by the United States Coast Guard. The word Ourang (also written Orang) is Malay or Indonesian for “man” or “person”, whereas Medan is the largest city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, giving an approximate translation of “Man from Medan”. Accounts of the ship’s accident have appeared in various books and magazines, mainly on Forteana. Their factual accuracy and even the ship’s existence, however, are unconfirmed, and details of the vessel’s construction and history, if any, remain unknown. Searches for any official registration or accident investigation recorded have proven unsuccessful.

The story’s first appearance was a series of three articles in the Dutch-Indonesian newspaper De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad (February 3, 1948, February 28, 1948, and March 13, 1948). The story is mostly the same as the later versions, but with significant differences. The name of the ship that found the Ourang Medan is never mentioned, but the location of the encounter is described as 400 nautical miles (740 km; 460 mi) southeast of the Marshall Islands. The second and third articles describe the experiences of the sole survivor of the Ourang Medan crew, who was found by a missionary and natives on Toangi (sic)atoll in the Marshall islands. The man, before perishing, tells the missionary that the ship was carrying a badly stowed cargo of sulfuric acid, and that most of the crew perished because of the poisonous fumes escaping from broken containers. According to the story, the Ourang Medan was sailing from an unnamed small Chinese port to Costa Rica, and deliberately avoided the authorities. The survivor, an unnamed German, died after telling his story to the missionary, who told the story to the author, Silvio Scherli of Trieste, Italy. The Dutch newspaper concludes with a disclaimer:

“This is the last part of our story about the mystery of the Ourang Medan. We must repeat that we don’t have any other data on this ‘mystery of the sea’. Nor can we answer the many unanswered questions in the story. It may seem obvious that this is a thrilling romance of the sea. On the other hand, the author, Silvio Scherli, assures us of the authenticity of the story.”

Silvio Scherli is said to have produced a report on Trieste “Export Trade” on September 28, 1959.

Ghost Ship - Legend of SS Ourang Medan



According to the story, at some point in or around June 1947 (Gaddis and others list the approximate date as early February 1948), two American vessels navigating the Strait of Malacca, City of Baltimore and Silver Star, among others, picked up distress messages from Dutch merchant ship Ourang Medan. Aradio operator aboard the troubled vessel sent the following Morse code message:

“S.O.S. from Ourang Medan * * * we float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead * * *.” A few confused dots and dashes later two words came through clearly. They were “I die.” Then, nothing more.

When Silver Star crew located and boarded the apparently undamaged Ourang Medan in a rescue attempt, the ship was found littered with corpses (including the carcass of a dog) “[s]prawled on their backs, the frozen faces upturned to the sun with mouths gaping open and eyes staring, the dead bodies resembled horrible caricatures”, with no survivors and no visible signs of injuries on the dead bodies. A fire then broke out in the ship’s No. 4 cargo hold, forcing the boarding parties to evacuate the Dutch freighter, thus preventing any further investigation. Soon after, Ourang Medan was observed to explode and sink.


The Ship Never Existed

Some researchers have speculated that if the Ourang Medan was a genuine ship it likely hailed from Sumatra, which at the time was a colony of the Netherlands in what was referred to as a the Dutch East Indies. “Ourang” is Indonesian for “man” and “Medan” is the biggest city on the island of Sumatra, which would designate this enigmatic freighter the “Man from Medan.” But, while the etymology of the name might give some clue as to its origin, there are no bureaucratic records of the Ourang Medan. One thing is for certain. There is evidence that the Silver Star existed and the men all reported this incident.

Unit 731 – Dangerous Cargo

Unit 731 was founded in 1932 by a Japanese bacteriologist named Shirō Ishii. Unit 731′s brief was to find a chemical, gas or biological weapon to win the war. Hideous, inhumane experiments were carried out on helpless Australian, American, Russian, Chinese and British prisoners — some of the worst war crimes ever committed. The theory goes that Unit 731 decided to use a slow and inconspicuous vessel – the Dutch freighter – to transport this treacherous cargo for reasons of both safety and concealment. Theorists surmised that sea water could have entered the ship’s hold, reacting with the perilous cargo to release poisonous gases, which then caused the crew to suffocate. At this point the onrushing salt water might have reacted with the nitroglycerin, creating the explosive effect that was said to cause the ship’s ultimate demise.

The Paranormal

The dubious proof, which supporters of the paranormal option use to confirm their theory, is the evident lack of a natural cause for the deaths as well as the purportedly petrified expressions etched onto the faces of the doomed sailors. Claims stretch from UFO invasions to undead pirates. There is scant evidence for a supposed interaction with these phantoms.

Nature’s Toll

The idea that the deaths were natural is supported with the theory that the crew of the Ourang Medan was asphyxiated by clouds of noxious methane that gurgled up from a fissure on the sea floor and poisoned the sailors before eventually engulfing the ship. Another idea is that an unobserved fire or failure in the ship’s boiler system might have been responsible for the demise of the vessel. Carbon monoxide could have leaked up causing the deaths of all aboard while the fire slowly grew; eventually igniting the fuel and causing the craft to explode.


One sound theory goes that the ship was boarded by pirates and the crew was killed. The most practical supporting evidence for this theory would have been the discovery of how the men were killed and what cargo had been taken. However, no proper investigation could take place due to the sinking of the ship.


The fact that there are no registration records for the Ourang Medan remains a troublesome detail. There have been many claims that records may have been eradicated by a savvy group of governmental conspirators due to the nature of the ships mission. Whatever the truth is behind this unfathomable tragedy, it remains one of the most perplexing and downright scary maritime enigmas of the 20th Century. (This article appeared on Wikipedia and Reddit)

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