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Friday, April 18, 2014

Death Ship: The Ourang Medan



According to widely circulated reports, in June of 1947 — or, according to alternate accounts, February of 1948 — multiple ships traversing the trade routes of the straits of Malacca, which is located between the sun drenched shores of Sumatra and Malaysia, claimed to have picked up a series of SOS distress signals. The unknown ship’s message was as simple as it was disturbing:

“All officers including captain are dead, lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” This communication was followed by a burst of indecipherable Morse code, then a final, grim message: “I die.” This cryptic proclamation was followed by tomb-like silence.

A conscripted American merchant ship called the Silver Star was closest to the presumed location of the Ourang Medan. Noting the terrified urgency in the message that came over the airwaves, the Captain and crew wasted no time in changing their course in an effort to assist the apparently incapacitated ship.

As they neared the ill-omened vessel, the crew noticed that there was no sign of life on the deck. The Americans attempted to hail the Dutch crew to no avail. That’s when the Captain decided to assemble a boarding party. As soon as they boarded the Ourang Medan, the men swiftly realized that the distress calls were not an exaggeration. The decks of the vessel were littered with the corpses of the Dutch crew; their eyes wide, their arms grasping at unseen assailants, their faces twisted into revolting visages of agony and horror. Even the ship’s dog was dead; it’s once intimidating snarl frozen into a ghastly grimace.

The boarding party found the Captain’s remains on the bridge, while his officers’ cadavers were strewn about the wheelhouse and chartroom. The communications officer was still at his post, as dead as the rest, his fingertips resting on the telegraph. All of the corpses, according to reports, bore the same terrified, wide-eyed expressions as the crew on deck. Below deck, search party members found cadres of corpses in the boiler room. While the search team could see clear evidence that the crew of the Ourang Medan suffered profoundly at the moment of their deaths, they could find no overt evidence of injury or foul play on the swiftly decaying corpses. Nor could they spy any damage to the ship itself.

The Captain of the Silver Star decided that they would tether themselves to the Ourang Medan and tow it back to port, but as soon as the crew attached the tow line to the Dutch ship they noticed ominous billows of smoke pouring up from the lower decks, in specific the Number 4 hold. The boarding party scarcely had a chance to cut the towline and make it back to the Silver Star before the Ourang Medan exploded with such tremendous force that it “lifted herself from the water and swiftly sank.” The watery grave that claimed the Ourang Medan effectively removed the freighter from the face of the Earth and forced it directly into the realm of myths and legends. This, of course, has made it one of the most enduring and intriguing maritime mysterious of the modern age.

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Reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ourang_Medan

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