The Harrowing Story Of The Dutch Ghost Ship Whose Entire Crew Died With Their Faces Paralyzed In Fear

The ship left behind a mystery that is yet to be solved.

man with ship behind him Radu Bercan, ysbrandcosijnfotografie via Canva

Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, a good ghost story might put you in doubt about what is real and what is fake.

Mysterious places like Dudleytown, Connecticut, where it’s too haunted to visit, and the town of Marfa, where aliens apparently land their UFOs, are the subjects of much fascination.

But one rumor involving the supernatural is based on a merchant ship that wrecked in Indonesia’s Straits of Malacca. The ship called the SS Ourang Medan was labeled a ghost ship after its crew all died under very suspicious circumstances. And the mystery remains just as eerie today.


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What was the SS Ourang Medan?

The story of the SS Ourang Medan took place in 1940, 1947, or 1948, depending on who you ask. It is debatable as to whether or not the ship truly existed or is an urban legend.


But the ship was referenced by a 1952 United States Coast Guard publication and in 1948 by New York’s "The Albany Times" and "The San Francisco Examiner."

Legend has it that around June 1947, two American vessels, the City of Baltimore and the Silver Star, heard messages of distress from the SS Ourang Medan. A radio operator got a message in morse code that read: “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.”

That distress call was followed by another message that simply said, “I die.” After that frightening message, there was radio silence from the ship, prompting the Silver Star crew to find it and board the vessel in an effort to help.

Once onboard, they found the perfectly intact SS Ourang Medan littered with the corpses of the crew. The bodies were on their backs, frozen, with looks of total terror on their faces, eyes wide open and mouth agape. Despite that, the deceased had no visible signs of foul play on their bodies.


The Silver Star crew decided they would tow the merchant ship to a port nearby, but a fire broke out in the No. 4 cargo hold of the Ourang Medan, causing them to evacuate. The mysterious ship exploded and sank into the sea, preventing anyone from digging deeper into what happened.



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What happened to the ship’s crew?

There are several theories about what could have gone wrong on the SS Ourang Medan if it truly ever existed. Some are reasonable, while others are as far-fetched as the conspiracy theories about the Denver airport.


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

It is possible that carbon monoxide poisoning was the culprit in an undetected fire left smoldering, caused by a malfunction in the ship’s boiler system. Escaping carbon monoxide could easily have been responsible for all of the deaths and the fire that led to the vessel’s demise.

Pirate Attack

Some say the SS Ourang Medan was attacked by pirates and at the time that it supposedly disappeared, this could have been a valid hypothesis. But the theory is shot down when you consider that the bodies had no signs of injury.

Hazardous Materials

One theory about what happened on the SS Ourang Medan is that it was smuggling chemical substances like potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin or wartime stocks of nerve agents.

It is believed that sea water entered the hold of the ship, causing the cargo to release toxic gas that killed the crew. The cause of death was thought to be asphyxia and poisoning.


It also makes sense when it comes to the explosion as it could have been caused by nitroglycerin. But the theory about nerve gas carries some credence as well.

It is theorized that the Japanese military was storing it in China during the war and handed it over to the U.S. military, who transported the nerve gas on the unregistered SS Ourang Medan.

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Any time something is unable to be explained, the possibility of extraterrestrial activity arises. When people consider what could have caused the deaths of the entire crew without leaving any evidence behind, they assume it to be the work of aliens with out-of-this-world-powers.


Of course, there is nothing to back this claim up.

The ship never existed.

The most likely reason no one can find any sign of the SS Ourang Medan is that it really never existed.

The conflicting stories and all of the articles thought to be related have differences in location that stand out. There are also many discrepancies in the details and the time frames of each story of the strange sunken ship.


Did the SS Ourang Medan ever actually sail?

This mystery at sea begs the question of whether or not the ship was real. All accounts have thus far been unconfirmed and the details surrounding the ship’s construction, maintenance and history have never been found.

Searches for official registration of the SS Ourang, accident investigation reports, or any other hint that the vessel once sailed have yielded nothing. For the time being, the legend of the mystical ship buried beneath the sea is just that: a legend.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.