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The S.S. Ourang Medan was a Dutch cargo 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 something of a legend.
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 official registration and/or accident investigation records have proven unsuccessful.
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, the City of Baltimore and the Silver Star, among others, picked up distress messages from Dutch merchant ship Ourang Medan. A radio operator aboard the troubled vessel sent the following Morse code message: “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." This was followed by some indecipherable Morse code, and one final grisly message: "I die." Then, silence. When the 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) in what appeared to be terrified postures, arms outstretched towards the sun, with no survivors and no visible signs of injuries on the dead bodies. A fire then broke out in the ship's cargo hold, forcing the boarding parties to evacuate the Dutch freighter, thus preventing any further investigation. Soon after, the Ourang Medan was observed to explode and sink.
Bainton and others hypothesize that the Ourang Medan might have been involved in smuggling operations of chemical substances such as a combination of potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin or even wartime stocks of nerve agents. According to these theories, sea water would have entered the ship's hold, reacting with the cargo to release toxic gases, which then caused the crew to succumb to asphyxia and/or poisoning. Later, the sea water would have reacted with the nitroglycerin, causing the reported fire and explosion.
Gaddis puts forward the theory that an undetected smoldering fire or malfunction in the ship's boiler system might have been responsible for the shipwreck. Escaping carbon monoxide would have caused the deaths of all aboard, with the fire slowly getting out of control, leading to the vessel's ultimate destruction.
The story has appeared in various magazines and books on Forteana, beginning with a 1953 article in Fate Magazine. Authors such as Jessup speculate that the crew might have been attacked by UFOs or paranormal forces prior to their deaths. Circumstantial evidence cited by these sources includes the apparent absence of a natural cause of death, the reportedly terrified expressions on the faces of the deceased, and rumors that some of the dead were "pointing" towards an unknown enemy.
Several authors note their inability to find any mention of the case in Lloyd's Shipping Register. Furthermore, no registration records for a ship by the name of Ourang Medan could be located in various countries, including the Netherlands. While Bainton states that the identity of the Silver Star, which was reported to have been involved in the failed rescue attempt, has been established with some certainty, the lack of information on the sunken ship itself has given rise to suspicion about the origins and credibility of the account. Bainton and others have put forward the possibility that accounts of, among others, the date, location, names of the ships involved, and circumstances of the accident might have been inaccurate or exaggerated, or that the story might be completely fictitious.