What Happened to The SS Ourang Medan?

Last updated on June 15th, 2023 at 03:35 am

According to several sources, the SS Ourang Medan is a phantom ship that became a shipwreck in the Straits of Malacca in the Dutch East Indies (today, Indonesia).

The crew of the SS Ourang Medan (and their dog) became legendary for their wide-open eyes and twisted mouths in horror. Nobody knows what happened to this ghost ship because it blew up immediately after being discovered by a rescue ship.

Picture published in the paper
Picture published in the paper – Credits Dutch Library

Most people feel that the Ourang Medan story is an urban legend because there is no record of a ship named the Ourang Medan.

What Happened with SS Ourang Medan?

This seemingly improbable incident is supposed to have occurred in the 1940s—the exact year varies depending on the source. According to the story, the Dutch ship S.S. Ourang Medan was sailing through the Malacca Straits when it was caught up in a mystery catastrophe.

A terrifying distress call was received by nearby ships. “All officers, including the captain, are dead, lying in the chartroom and on the bridge, and the entire crew is most likely dead,” it said. Then there came an incomprehensible flurry of Morse code. “I die,” said the radio operator as the final word.

The Silver Star was the closest American ship to the Ourang Medan. The captain agreed to locate and assist the Ourang Medan. The Silver Star was the first ship to arrive at the SS Ourang Medan. They issued a signal and yelled for the Ourang Medan to respond.

However, there was no answer from the Ourang Medan, only eerie silence. Silver Star realized something was awry and alerted the rescue squad. The rescue squad was informed and entered the Ourang Medan.

Rescuers who entered the sailboat were reportedly met with a terrifying sight. There were dead bodies throughout the ship., And the bodies of the crew were frozen.

They were all afraid, with bulging eyes and terrified expressions on their faces. Their mouths were stated to be wide as if screaming, and their arms were supposed to be outstretched as if grasping for something. There were no symptoms of harm. 

Even the ship’s dog was dead, frozen in this horrifying position, mid-growl at an unknown enemy or horror! It appeared to be a dead ship led by a dead captain.

When the captain gave the order to tow the Dutchman back to port, a fire which broke out in one of the SS Ourang Medan’s cargo holds, causing the Silver Star crew to break the lines. Soon after, the ghost ship exploded and sank.

It is said that the Ouragan Medan was a 5000-ton cargo steamer ship that was 40 years old at the time, with the name translating to “Man of Medan” in Malaysian. As Brooks points out, using a masculine name for a ship was unusual and could be interpreted as an omen of impending disaster.

The Medan was going through the Malacca Strait with 23 crew members on board, including a captain and a handful of Indonesian employees. Details like what cargo it was carrying and where it was going do not appear to have survived any accounts.

De locomotief Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad
De locomotief Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad – Credits Dutch Library

The Origin of the Story

The story first appeared in the Dutch-Indonesian daily De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad (February 3, 1948, with two images, February 28, 1948, and March 13, 1948).

The ship that discovered the Ourang Medan is never named, although the location is given as 400 nautical miles (740 km; 460 mi) southeast of the Marshall Islands.

The second and third paragraphs relate the experiences of the Ourang Medan crew’s single survivor, who was discovered by an Italian missionary and natives on Taongi Atoll in the Marshall Islands. 

Before dying, the guy tells the missionary that the ship was carrying a poorly stowed cargo of vitriol oil and that most of the crew died due to poisonous gases leaking from damaged containers.

The SS Ourang Medan, according to the story, was sailing from an undisclosed small Chinese port to Costa Rica while avoiding officials.

SS Ourang Medan

Is Ourang Medan Based on a True Story?

The story of the Ourang Medan was repeated over time, and new storytellers exaggerated various details. Dates, locales, and even the fates of the crew change with each successive story. Did unsafe chemicals kill the crew? Was there anyone who survived?

Most people believe that the Ourang Medan never existed save in the imaginations of storytellers and their enthusiastic audiences.

The Dutch Indonesia newspaper that reported this story ran a disclaimer stating that,

This concludes our story into the mystery of the Ourang Medan. We must emphasize that we have no more information about this “mystery of the sea.” We also can’t solve the story’s many unanswered questions.

It may appear evident that the entire story is fiction, a wonderful sea romance. On the other hand, the author, Silvio Scherli, assures us that the story is true.


If the Ourang Medan existed, the crew most likely tried to keep a low profile. It’s also possible that Scherli and others fabricated a gas explosion.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the image of a lone radio operator pleading for aid as crew members fell around him has persisted for decades. It’s possible. And in the world of horror, that’s often enough.