According to rumors, the S.S. Ourang Medan was a Dutch cargo ship whose crew mysteriously all died on the seas. The bodies were found in terrified postures, and when a rescue ship attempted to tow the ship back to land, a fire broke out and the ship exploded and sank.

Is there any truth behind this?

There's actually a Wikipedia article on this but I'm not sure how much is myth or fact.

  • 6
    Isn't the Wikipedia article you're linking to also answering your question?: "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." – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 16 '14 at 16:22
  • I am 31 years old and Dutch. Only yesterday, I came across this story for the first time in my life. This goes to show that this urban legend is popular outsdie of the Netherlands. Therefore, I highly doubt this event to be true. Dutch people love their history and traditions so if this were to be true, I would have known this from when I was a kid. I asked some relatives about this story and they never heard of this story, either. P.s. Kudo's to the translation made by hdhondt. – user25413 Mar 17 '15 at 11:13
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Absence in registry of ships

There are no records of an SS Ourang Medan in Lloyds Register for 1946. You can find records of other ships with similar names - for example the SS OrangOutan!

Some of the stories about the SS Ourang Medan mention that an American ship named Silver Star heard the morse-code distress call and responded. Sometimes the Silver Star is described as a US Navy ship and sometimes as a US Merchant ship.

Lloyds register for a relevant period only contains mention of one ship with a name staring "Silver Star". A Canadian merchant ship, not a US ship. It's name was "Silver Star Park" not just "Silver Star". This ship had been sold and renamed by the time of the alleged sinking of SS Ourang Medan (1947, 1948 or 1952 - depending on which story you read).

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Dutch Newspaper "De Locomotief" 1948

The story seems to originate in a 1948 report in De Locomotief.

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De Locomotief also reported on this story on two later dates. So there are a series of three reports on this subject:

They concluded

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Translation courtesy of hdhondt:

Alongside this is the finish of the story about OM. The conclusion leads us to repeat that we have no further details about this "puzzle of the sea". It is not possible to give an answer to the many questions that arise from this story. The conclusion is that the whole story is a fantasy, an interesting romance. Against this is the statement from the author, Silvio Scherli of Trieste, who persists in assuring its authenticity


Absence of other records

Google engrams finds no mention of Ourang medan between 1940 and 2008.

It finds plenty of references to the Mary Celeste.

The Ourang Medan is certainly a far less well-known story but if it's story had substance, I'd expect something more to have been written about it.


Onus of proof

I'm not sure how much is myth or fact.

Proponents of this account have not firmly established any facts.

When a claim is made that something very unusual exists (e.g. a fairy who exchanges teeth for money), the onus is on the persons(s) making the claim to provide some reasonable evidence. It is unreasonable to expect others to provide evidence of non-existence. Therefore, until or unless some firm evidence emerges, it is reasonable to treat the claim as a myth.

Compare the case of the Mary Celeste of 1872. It seems unlikely that a similarly mysterious event in comparatively modern times (1947/8) would not be recorded more thoroughly in registries, newspapers or court records of the time.


  • 2
    +1 for the onus of proof point. Can you add the original Dutch quotation as well? I'm a native speaker and may be able to provide a better translation. – Shadur Feb 9 '15 at 12:06
  • Better translation of the snippet: Alongside this is the finish of the story about OM. The conclusion leads us to repeat that we have no further details about this "puzzle of the sea". It is not possible to give an answer to the many questions that arise from this story. The conclusion is that the whole story is a fantasy, an interesting romance. Against this is the statement from the author, Silvio Scherli of Trieste, who persists in assuring its authenticity. – hdhondt Feb 9 '15 at 23:35
  • @hdhondt: Thanks, I've edited that into the answer with attribution. – RedGrittyBrick Feb 9 '15 at 23:52

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