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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Decemystery Bonus Entry: SS Ourang Medan

A recreation—I think—of the Ourang Medan and her crew. You decide.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! To celebrate this most joyous time of the year, let's go explore what's quite easily the most bizarre ghost ship of them all: the SS Ourang Medan!

Meaning “Men from Medan” in Malay or Indonesian, the Ourang Medan was a ship found via a Morse code distress signal in 1947 or 1948, it varies. The signal went something to the effect of this:

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.

This was then followed up with:

I die.

Of the few ships that supposedly picked up the distress signal, one went to investigate: the “Silver Star”. It took a bit, but the Ourang Medan was eventually found. It was in pristine condition. On board however, the situation was a bit different. Although the ship itself was in fine condition, the entire crew, and a dog, were all dead. It's claimed the crew were all sprawled on their backs, facing upwards, their mouths agape and a look of absolute terror on their faces. I can only assume the dog looked the same.

The interior of the ship was more or less the same: everyone was dead and looking like they'd seen Sadako Yamamura. One oddity I heard pointed out in a video I watched however stated that ship's boiler was apparently still running—in spite of the room temperature being obscenely high. Why it was still running is never explained, though one can assume that the crew died before they could turn it off.

Thoroughly creeped out, the crew of the Silver Star prepared to tow the Ourang Medan back to port. However, shortly after hooking the ship, a fire broke out in the Ourang's number four cargo hold. No long after, it exploded—the aforementioned video stating with enough force that the ship leaped out of the water before ultimately sinking beneath the water.

That's where the story ends; sort of. The story was run in a few newspapers and it's worth mentioning that the “Silver Star” didn't exist at the time; it was a ship, but with a different name at the time. Those two little bits of information out there, let's jump into theories because Santa Claus has arrived with the ones I asked for. So let's not waste any time and unwrap them!

The first is that a chemical burst of some sort happened and that's what caused not only the deaths, but the horrific poses the crew were found in. I'd expect on this, but this will come up later.

The second theory is that it was ghosts. Indeed, the Flying Dutchman or whatever other ghost ship somehow, in some way killed the crew. There's not much else to it than that.

The third theory is that it was aliens—because what is a ghost ship without the theory that aliens abducted the entire crew? About as good as a Decemystery blog without aliens, that's what!

The theory that aliens somehow killed the crew, perhaps via super alien powers, is one straight out of a horror film and considering the rather horror-based nature of the Ourang Medan's story, that's fitting. That said, that's also all this theory has going for it. As for aliens however, there's one more theory that involves them.

Theory number four is that the Ourang Medan was an unregistered smuggling ship and that's why we've never been able to find it in any registry.

After the end of World War II, smuggling was extremely popular. As such, many ships used in said activity weren't registered as the risk of being caught, boarded or outright sunk by rival smugglers was too great.

But if the Ourang Medan was an unregistered smuggling ship, then what was it carrying? Well, some may say chemicals or toxic gasses. But this where theory number five comes in and boy oh boy, it's a doozy.

This theory combines a bit of theories one, three and four—though it doesn't create Voltron in the process. What it does make however is one of the most head tiltingly weird theories I've seen this side of the Milky Way.

Our tale here begins with the ship itself, which was supposedly carrying dangerous chemicals, much like in our first theory. However, it’s specified that it may have been chemicals of some sort from the notoriously brutal and inhumane Unit 731—the Japanese unit that, during World War II, performed horrible and cruel experiments on Prisoners of War. It’s said that the Ourang Medan might’ve been carrying—or more likely, smuggling—leftover or unused materials chemicals from that unit and transporting them to the highest bidder. Or, perhaps, an unused experimental gas of some sort that someone wanted—perhaps the Soviet Union or another Communist country.

However, at some point—perhaps due to poor packaging or instability—the weapon or chemical seeped out and the crew panicked, hence the terrified expressions. This would also explain why rigor mortis supposedly set in extremely quickly and decomposition allegedly had already begun. This would also explain the explosion that sunk the ship.

That said: if this ship was transporting remnants of Unit 731 and what they used, where was it found and why did the buyer—if there even was one—want it? That’s never quite touched upon in anything I’ve ever seen and I, for one, can’t quite give an answer myself. However, one individual possibly could and… well, they don’t. Santa Claus didn’t think I was that good this year.

Enter C.H. Marck: Assistant to the CIA Director and writer of this letter:

On May 29, 1958 I sent you a letter concerning crews disappear-ing from ships on the high seas, or ships which have disappearedwithout trace, well, I have just read a weird story concerning theDutch vessel S.S. Ourang Medan* I will be indeed grateful for youropinion of this story. Also, do you think ’’something from the unknown"is involved?
In early February, 1948, an SOS came from the S.S. Ourang Medan.Dutch and British listening "posts located the vessel as proceedingthrough Malacoa Strait, the sea was calm, the weather clear.
SOS, SOS, again came the frenzied call. After a short silence,"... all officers, including Captain dead, lying in chartroom and on Bridge … probably whole crew dead • • •”
There followed a series of indecipherable dots and dashes and then came quite clearly:
"I die."
Rescue ships from Dutch Sumatra and British Malaya rushed to the indicated location of the vessel in distress. They found her only fifty miles from the position given. Boats were put over the sides to investigate.
When boarding parties reached the Ourang Medan they found an eerie sight. There wasn't a living creature on the ship. The captain lay dead on the bridge. The bodies of the other officers sprawled in the wheelhouse, chartroom and wardroom. The faithful "sparks" was slumped in a chair in the radio shack, his hand still on the sending key. The bodies of the crew lay everywhere: in their rooms, in the passageways, on the decks. And on all the dead faces was a look of convulsive horror. As a report of the PROCEEDINGS OF THE MERCHANTMARINE COUNCIL put it: "their frozen faces were upturned to the sun, the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring …" Everyone was dead. Even the ship's dog, a small terrier, was lifeless, its teeth bared in anger or agony.
But strangely there was no sign of wounds or injuries on any of the bodies.
After a quick conference, the boarding parties decided to puta tow line onto the vessel and take here into port. But at that very "moment" smoke and flames belched forth from No. 4 hold. The fire was immediately so hot and so widespread that it was impossible to subdue.
The boarding parties hurriedly abandoned the vessel and returned to safety of their own ships. Moments later there was a terrific "explosion" on the Ourang Medan and then the vessel sank with all her "dead" crew.
I feel sure that the S,S. Ourang Medan tragedy holds the answer to many of these airplane accidents, and unsolved mysteries of the sea. Also, I have often thought about the many sightings of huge fiery spheres rising from the "sea," or disappearing into the sea, by ships captains and crews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
There are alarming passages in old English chronicles, written in medieval Latin, and in Latin incunabula, or books printed before the year 1500 A.D., which suggest that these "fiery spheres cause destruction, and that they come from "within our planet. For instance: In 216 B.C., "things like ships were seen in the sky, over Italy , , ,In Sardinia, a knight was making his rounds, inspecting the posts ^guarding the rampart, when a stick in his hands burst into flames ,
The same thing happened to Homan soldiers in Sicily who saw their javelins flame and burn in their hands,' At Arpi, 'a round shield was seen in the sky,"
Also, in A.D, 1067 people saw a fire that flamed and burned fiercely in the sky. It came near the earth, and for a little time brilliantly lit it up. Afterwards, it revolved, ascended on high, then descended into the sea. In several places it "burned woodland plains.
Yes, the enchanting sea, what terrifying "secret" does it hold?
I feel sure that the S.S, Ourang Medan tragedy also holds the answer to this "secret."
Sinoerely yours,
C. H. Marck, Jr,

Indeed, a government official—and a CIA employee who worked directly with the head honcho expressed interest in the case about the Ourang Medan. That’s quite something and, to some, is proof enough that the story is real in spite or despite the many who think otherwise. However, is it proof enough? That’s questionable, but it ties into the next theory, which is that this is all a legend; a hoax or a story that got twisted by poor memory of sailors or simply by the imperfect memories of man.

Sailors are notorious for telling fantastical tales. You need not look any further than the old legends of the Kraken. While the Giant Squid may be a real creature and quite a big one at that, it isn't quite the man eating monstrosity the Kraken was said to be.

Likewise, the Ourang Medan's story fits into the category of “ghost ships that were described as being more than they actually were”. However, if we accept this theory, there are two very glaring questions that remain up in the air.

The first is: what was the progenitor to the Ourang Medan?

To interject my two cents into this entry: there's an amazingly well put together documentary on the mythical Polybius arcade cabinet, and where the story originated from. I mention this as Polybius had a very weird origin; it was made up by someone, but its influence came from older stories of the time.

Likewise, I believe the Ourang Medan to be of the same origin: a story that was perhaps made up, but was stitched together from other tales and perhaps even real stories a sailor (or sailors) heard on taverns. If this is the case though, I can't exactly pinpoint what stories would've been the catalyst for such stories.

The second, and much more peculiar, question is the letter that the aforementioned letter that C.H. Marck sent. This question goes in two extremely different directions, so let's start with the path that's more in favor of the Ourang Medan being real.

First off: that letter is, without a shadow of a doubt, real. You can find it on the CIA's official government website—its archive anyways. This is conclusive evidence that someone in the United States government was aware of the Ourang Medan's story and thought something of it. That's pretty big I'd say. The CIA, no matter what your view of then is, isn't an agency that typically toys with things like this without some sort of interest; the knowledge there's something to gain from it all.

However, that is where the first path ends.   kinda.

On a more neutral note, the way the letter was written wasn't in a business style. I remind you: Marck was the Assistant to the CIA Director. He worked directly with the boss man, and the CIA is nothing if not extremely focused on their endgame goal. That said: the letter, the way I read it, was more akin to that of being sent to a close friend or associate. It doesn't really like it's work related.

Yet, the recipients name still redacted.

Redaction in CIA memos and whatnot isn't rare. They're secrecy incarnate and always will be. That said, for such a casual letter, it begs the question as to why they'd redact the name. One can argue the person may still be alive and wishes to maintain their privacy. Others may say that they knew something about the truth behind the Ourang Medan and what it really was.

However, this is where something even odder comes in. Although a quick Google search of C.H. Marck yields some CIA archive results, I'm incapable of finding anything about the man himself at all. While say mY argue that's by Marck's own choice, the assistant to the CIA director doesn't seem like a small job. Quite the contrary in fact. If this man also had a government job and it's been known for 15 years that he talked about the Ourang Medan, one would imagine that someone would've found out something about him. However, that doesn't seem to be the case.
This by no means I doubt that Marck ever existed. However, it strikes me as incredibly odd that there's nothing on him outside of a handful of declassified letters he sent. Mind you, Marck's letter he sent to the redacted individual was just barely under 59 years ago as of the time of this writing. He could still possibly be alive depending on his age when he wrote the letter.

I digress though. The cards are stacked against the existence of the Ourang Medan. Although the letter may be proof enough, there’s no proof that Marck’s intent—if he had any—was anything beyond “I heard about this story, have you?”. That said, it still remains a talking point among those who find the story compelling enough to search for proof of its existence. In reality though, I’m 99% sure that the Ourang Medan is a fable conjured up from the minds of either sailors or a clever individual wanting to spread a rumor around.

That said, it doesn't make the story behind it any less eerie in my eyes. Whether or not something was lost in translation and the event really did happen is up in the air. At the end of the day, the legend/story of the Ourang Medan remains one of the seas most unusual mysteries and one that I, personally, hope is true.


  1. Tyler "Bio" RodriguezDecember 25, 2018 at 8:52 PM

    It's a fantastic story. And that is the problem, it's too fantastical. Chemical weapons can explain strange behavior and horrific corpses with no injuries, but typing I die is a bit hard to swallow. I did my own version of trying to find where the story was first reported and the earliest date I could find was 1940 Supposedly in the Soloman Isles pre Pearl Harbor and it's less fantastical. The ship had a different title and it sank because of toxic fumes from sulphuric acid in the hold. One person even survived for a while supposedly. I think there could have been some incidents that were real that were melded together intentionally or not.

  2. Tyler "Bio" RodriguezDecember 25, 2018 at 8:54 PM