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Strewn across the deck of the S.S. Ourang Medan, the crew of the mysterious ‘ghost’ ship lay on their backs, their teeth bared in a terrified grimace towards the sun.
Sailors answering the ship’s distress call were overcome with the stench of rotting flesh as they boarded the unmanned vessel, the bodies decomposing rapidly under the blazing sun and seagulls picking at the freakish buffet.
One account at the time said the crew lay there “teeth bared, with their upturned faces to the sun, staring, as if in fear…”
Even the boat’s dog lay dead in a similar position, and was described as being “mid-growl”.
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It was if all living creatures on board the Dutch vessel had been scared to death by something floating in the sky above them – but what was it?
More than 80 years after the chilling story of the S.S Ourang Medan made its way from mere naval legend to one of the modern age’s greatest unsolved mysteries, we are no closer to knowing.
And some even say that the boat itself didn’t exist, despite it being mentioned in many newspapers of the time, adding to the ghost ship’s unsettling legend.
The S.S. Ourang Medan’s mystery begins around 1940 when it was sailing thorough the Strait of Malacca, a 580 mile stretch of sea between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The Malacca Strait is a vital shipping route as it links the Indian and Pacific Oceans, meaning that there were many ships in the area who picked up its harrowing distress call.
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It was reported as saying: “All officers including captain dead, lying in chartroom and on bridge, probably whole crew dead.”
Then, after an unintelligible frenzy of Morse code the radio operator signed off with: “I die .”
After discovering the boat, a rescue mission climbed on board to find it exactly as described – and another nasty surprise.
It was claimed that shortly after boarding the Ourang Medan there was a huge fire in the bowels of the ship, prompting a rapid evacuation.
As they looked back at the boat from a safe distance it exploded, with the force described as being strong enough to lift it straight up out of the water, only to sink without trace.
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But it isn’t due to the boat and its crew rotting in a watery grave that it’s labelled as potentially never existing, it’s because there is no record of it in Lloyds Shipping registers from that time.
However, that doesn’t mean that the boat and its legend are made up.
According to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, one theory is that the ship was actually registered in Sumatra and its name translates to “Man from Medan”—Medan being a Sumatran island.
German researcher Professor Theodor Siersdorfer, spent 50 years investigating the legend and discovered an old publication from 1953 called The Death Ship in the South Seas which described the loss of a boat under similar circumstances.
The pamphlet said that the boat was carrying potassium cyanide and nitroglycerine, which could have caused the explosion. They also could have released toxic gases that killed the crew and their dog.
While the exact date of the boat’s distress call and discovery has never been confirmed, if it was in the early 1940s that would coincide with the start of World War 2 – meaning its explosive cargo would have been something to keep under wraps.
Of course there are also theories that involve ghosts, sea monsters and aliens – but for many, keeping the ship and its contents secret seems to be much more likely.
- Conspiracy theories
- World War 2
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