The Mystery Behind The Ourang Medan Ship Deaths

Humans have been sailing the oceans for thousands of years, and so it should go without saying that of the untold millions of ocean voyages that have been undertaken, some have ended in failure. Ships sink, ships get lost, ships break apart in storms. And in a few cases throughout history, the fate of the voyage has turned out to be an enduring mystery.  

Sometimes, for example, ships have been discovered in inexplicable disarray, such as with the entire crew dead, and no real explanation for what happened. The maritime industry has even given such vessels a name: "ghost ships." And despite the preponderance of legends of ghost ships coming from centuries ago, before modern-day technology helped make sailing a safer undertaking with a more certain outcome, such ships have turned up in maritime logs surprisingly recently. One such case, that of the Ourang Medan, turned up just a couple of years after World War II — and it may have been some war-related activities that led to the ship's mysterious outcome. Not only did everyone on the ship die but the vessel also exploded just seconds after a search team abandoned the ship after a gruesome discovery, reports Ranker.

Was the Ourang Medan carrying cargo that killed the crew?

Back in 1947, according to Ranker, the crew of the Silver Star (as well as the crews of several other ships in the seas off the coast of Indonesia), purportedly picked up a distress signal coming from the Dutch freighter, Ourang Medan. "All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead," said the distress signal, followed by something that sounded like "I die." The Silver Star crew found the lost ship and boarded it, only to make a horrifying discovery: the crew was all dead, even a dog, their faces supposedly fixed in a cry of pain. There were no signs of violence or injury. Once the rescue team smelled smoke, they abandoned the ship, and the Ourang Medan supposedly exploded seconds later.

One theory about what happened is that the ship was in some way connected to secret Japanese activities related to the recently concluded World War II — perhaps the ship was carrying a chemical or biological weapon. Or, perhaps, the whole thing was a hoax, and the Ourang Medan never even existed. According to Lloyd's Register, no ship bearing that name sailed that year, and neither was there a ship named Silver Star.