Macabre Grimoire Chapter 29 Ourang Medan: The Ghost Ship and The CIA
Hosts Ari Show, Robert Mehling, and Travis Nye
Produced by Robert Mehling
Voice Over by Dave Holly
Opening Theme Enhance Your Starry Night by Mouthful of Bees
This week we explore the ghost ship Ourang Medan. One of the strangest Ghost Ship stories of all time. But did it happen and why was CIA leadership so interested in it?
Reports vary on the start of the Ourang Medan mystery, with some placing it in June of 1947 and others in February of 1948. Whatever the date, the saga of the Ourang Medan began with an emergency distress call over morse code intercepted by various vessels in the Straits of Malacca, near Sumatra and Malaysia.
The message was split into two parts, with undecipherable morse code in between each. The first part read:
“All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.”
Gibberish followed, though, given the context of the second message, it may have been the fading attempts of a dying man to communicate,
as the second message simply read:
Nothing followed after this transmission, but two American commercial ships decided to respond.
With the aid of British and Dutch listening posts, the coordinates of the vessel were triangulated. The identity of the stricken vessel was also ascertained as being the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan. The American merchant ship, the Silver Star, immediately made way for the coordinates and several hours later the look-out spotted the Ourang Medan.
The ship was discovered to be drifting aimlessly with no power to the motors and no visible crew, though there appeared to be no damage
to the vessel. Pulling alongside it, the crew of the Silver Star called out to the Medan but received no response.
Radio contact was attempted with the same
eerily silent response. Forming a boarding party, the Captain of the
Silver Star prepared to board the vessel. What greeted the sailors upon boarding the Medan was like a scene from a horror movie and proved the SOS message to be very accurate. Dead sailors littered the deck of the ship, each man found with their faces frozen in wide-eyed horror and twisted in terror. Their bodies had begun to decay abnormally fast. Rigor mortis had locked their arms in positions that made it seem as if the crew had died fending some nightmarish attacker off.
The single animal onboard the ship, a pet dog, had not escaped the grisly fate and was found with a savage snarl frozen on its face. A further search of the vessel uncovered the Captain on the bridge in a similar condition. The bodies of the Bridge Officers were discovered in the wheelhouse and chartroom, perhaps trying to barricade themselves from whatever monstrous fate had befallen the rest of the crew. The engineering crew, also at their stations below deck, were discovered with the same frozen look of terror, arms stiff and fending off their attacker.
Lastly, the radio operator who presumably sent the distress call was discovered still at his station, likely having died there just
moments after sending the SOS. The Silver Star’s search party made several notes about their discoveries aboard the Ourang Medan.
Not a single crew member had any visible injuries. However, it was clear by their twisted expressions and frozen limbs that they had suffered greatly. The bodies were also decaying much faster than they should be, rigor mortis had locked limbs in place. It was as if they had never had a chance to lose muscle control and fall to the floor.
The rest of the ship was found in good condition with no apparent signs of damage or disaster. Deciding to tow the vessel back to port for investigation and salvage, the Silver Star secured tow lines when suddenly smoke was discovered below decks in the number four hold. Fire quickly followed, and the boarding party made haste to their own ship before severing the tow lines.
The moment the lines were cut, the ship exploded with a force so violent it lifted it out of the water before slipping beneath the waves. Whatever secrets the vessel may have held disappeared as it sunk. The first official mention of the incident was made in Dutch newspapers in 1948, and later in a US Coast Guard report in 1952. Publishing eyewitness testimony about the state of the crew, the report said that the crew were discovered
“their frozen faces upturned to the sun… staring, as if in fear… the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring.”
What could have taken the lives of an entire ship’s crew so quickly without leaving any wounds behind? Some speculate that the cargo hold was loaded with potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin, which would have accounted for the sudden smoke and explosion. But neither would account for the crew.
Some speculate that the ship was secretly carrying cargo from Japanese military Unit 731. Infamous for chemical and biological experiments during World War II, Unit 731 routinely carried out horrific experiments on live American and Chinese POWs. (I plan to do an episode about Unit 731 in the future) Some allege that the Ourang Medan was carrying equipment or personnel from Unit 731 when suddenly an accidental release of an unknown chemical or biological agent affected the entire crew.
As wanted war criminals, any surviving members of Unit 731 may have had motivation for keeping the ship’s identity a secret, which would
account for one of the most contentious pieces of the Ourang Medan account- the ship was never listed on any known registries at the
Skeptics also point out that the Silver Star was also not on any known registries. This is part of why I dropped this case a year ago thinking that it was too fake to cover as a topic for the show. Turns out this is inaccurate as the ship was in fact at the time operating under a different registration: the Santa Juana after the Grace Line shipping company bought rights to the vessel and renamed it.
Public interest in the story of the Ourang Medan is reflected in correspondence sent to the CIA. In December 1959, CH Marck Jr. of Scottsdale, Arizona sent a private letter to Director of the CIA Allen Dulles.
The letter was released to the public on May 5, 2003. The person to whom Marck wrote remains redacted by the CIA. But in the letter, Marck references earlier writing he sent on May 29, 1958. It was answered briefly “on behalf of Mr. Dulles” by the “Assistant to the Director,” who takes a dismissive tone. This response, released May 7, 2002, establishes the CIA as the recipient.
In the letter, Marck explains the events, from the discovery of the crew to the mysterious explosion, followed by the statement,
“I feel sure that the S.S. Ourang Medan tragedy holds the answer to many of these airplane accidents, and unsolved mysteries of the sea.”
Marck also goes on to highlight what he calls “alarming” passages in old English chronicles. He talks about the sightings of huge fiery spheres rising from or disappearing into the sea by ship captains and crews. Most chilling of all however is the question Marck poses to the unknown recipient: “Do you think “something from the unknown” is involved?”. At the end of the letter, he then asks “the enchanting sea, what terrifying “secret” does it hold? I feel sure that the SS Ourang Medan tragedy also holds the answer to this “secret.”
What exactly did Marck mean by “something from the unknown” being involved? What “secret” was he inferring to? Why did he place both in quotation marks? If the Ourang Medan was nothing more than a tall sea tale, why was the leadership of the most powerful intelligence agency in the world interested in the story?
Link to the weirdest declassified CIA letter I’ve ever seen:
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2019. Cia.Gov. Accessed August 13 2019. https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80R01731R000300010043-5.pdf.
“The Ghost Ship That The Government Tried To Keep A Secret – The Ourang Medan”. 2019. Youtube. Accessed August 13 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HTheiazlwE&feature=youtu.be.
“Ourang Medan”. 2019. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed August 13 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ourang_Medan.
“The Curse Of The Ourang Medan”. 2019. Youtube. Accessed August 14 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KNoB2RUFEQ.