MYSTERY OF THE GHOST-SHIP S.S. OURANG MEDAN
Depending on which report is accurate, a curious radio message was received by numerous ships traveling along the Straits of Malacca, situated around Sumatra and Malaysia in either June 1947 or in late February 1948. At the time, the origins of this message – an SOS – were not known. The message itself was divided into two parts, separated by Morse code that could not be deciphered. Those that received this message insisted that the transcript went:
All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead. … I die.
Nothing else was transmitted after this chilling conclusion. Two ships, both American, picked up the messages and felt compelled to investigate. With the help of British and Dutch listening posts, the coordinates of the vessel thought to be transmitting were triangulated. It was the Dutch freighter S.S. Ourang Medan – above extract courtesy of Historic Mysteries.
Having come across the above story, i thought it was the perfect mystery to kick off my latest Spire action thriller with. Crypto, Spire 5 will came out in February 2020, but to whet your appetites, you can read the prologue below… CRYPTO – SPIRE 5 PROLOGUE
Pacific Ocean – 400 nautical miles south-east of the Marshall Islands. 10.06.1948 THE DUTCH REGISTERED freighter ship, the SS Ourang Medan listed to port as she was hit broadside by a large wave, which sent foaming, freezing Pacific Ocean seawater cascading over her forward deck. The ship had left the Chinese port of Xiamen two weeks earlier and was on route to Costa Rica. Stored beneath the decks in her hold was a cargo of coffee, raw sugar cane, twenty-five gold bars and a single large steel container, which had been encased in a wooden crate, and which had taken ten men the best part of three hours to haul on board. On the bridge, Captain Jacobus raised his forearm and wiped the sweat from his brow as he stood at the helm, his other oil-covered hand gripping the large wooden wheel as he wrestled to keep the ship on course. He reached down and yanked the wheel lock up from the pedestal, left the helm and opened the bridge door which headed out onto the deck to get some fresh air. A strong, wet, wind hit him full on in the face. He looked up at the night sky which was beautifully clear; billions of stars, pin pricks of light, winking in the heavens. A good sign at least, the ocean should calm down soon, he thought. He realised he was still sweating profusely, the salty sweat was trickling into his eyes, and he wiped his brow once again. He’d been feeling unwell for the last two days, and now he was developing a sore throat and stomach cramps, which had worsened in the last few hours. He put it down to the sleepless nights he’d had since they’d left port, but was now wondering if it had anything to do with the hooker he’d spent his last night with at the port two weeks earlier. He hoped he’d not caught anything from her, and cursed under his breath at the thought. The ship listed again, the hull creaking ominously as the vessel’s steel panels and rivets responded to the relentless pounding of the ocean. He took one last look at the heavens and headed back inside, unlocked the wheel and adjusting it slightly to bring the ship back on course. “Anders, can you take over for a while. I’m going back to my cabin to lie down for half an hour,” he shouted. Anders, who was operating the vessel’s bilge pumps, stood up and grabbed the wheel. “Yes sir,” he said, nodding at the captain in response. Captain Jacobus left the bridge, grabbing the stair rails to steady himself as he descended towards his quarters. He made his way along the corridor on the lower deck, feeling increasingly sick as he went. He reached his cabin and hurried in, closing and locking the door behind him. He staggered to the bathroom, and projectile vomited into the basin as he entered. “Jesus!” Jacobus groaned, as he ran the tap to wash away the vomit. He splashed cold water onto his face, dabbing it dry with a towel, before closing the bathroom door and falling onto his bed. He shook his head to try and expel the feeling of nausea and fog now engulfing him. Was it something I’ve eaten? Surely it couldn’t have been the hooker? No sexually transmitted disease could cause such rapid illness, he reasoned. He thought back to when they left port, the cargo that had been loaded on board. He grabbed the ship’s freight itinerary log from his bedside table to remind himself exactly what was in the hold. Jacobus flipped through the pages looking for the 08 June entry. He hadn’t forgotten the gold bars of course, but there was something else, in bulkhead five; the large steel container. It had taken ten men to haul it on board, the stamp on the lid had read, ‘Fragile – Restricted.’ The object, he knew had arrived at the Chinese port from McMurdo, in Antarctica, some weeks earlier. He pushed the logbook back into his bedside draw and stood up with the intention of going down to the hold to check the container out, but immediately collapsed onto the floor, vomiting again before he could reach the bathroom. Jacobus felt his body convulse, go into spasm, like something was crawling inside his veins and invading his body. He felt excruciating pain, and then his eyes rolled back until the wooden slatted ceiling of his cabin came into view momentarily, before blurring quickly and then fading to black as he lost consciousness. Up on the bridge Anders was starting to feel as sick as a dog. He wiped his brow, now soaked in sweat, and checked the control panel in front of him; course and speed all looked okay. Where the hell had the captain gone? The ship lurched to starboard as another wave hit, and Anders clung onto the wheel in response. He wasn’t feeling right. He had tremors in his hands and his legs were suddenly growing weak as if his body was now too heavy for them, and he felt his knees starting to buckle. The tremors in his hands started extended along to his arms and then he collapsed onto the bridge, losing consciousness momentarily, a terrible pain gripping his body. In the ship’s Communications Room, Second Officer Frans Erik, the vessel’s telegraphist could hear the men in the dining area shouting at each other. Erik left his desk and staggered along the corridor towards the Mess Hall to find out what was going on. He opened the Mess Hall door. What the hell? he wondered, as he entered, seeing the state of the men inside. A fight had broken out between at least three of the crew. One man, who Anders recognised as Eddie McNamara, a tough-looking Scottish chap from Troon, near Glasgow, was being restrained by two other seamen. McNamara was foaming at the mouth, blood trickling down his temple from an open wound. At least fifteen other seamen were gathered around, watching as McNamara frantically struggled to break free from the men restraining him, his eyes bloodshot, and darting around the room like a wild animal. “What the hell is going on here?” Second Officer Erik shouted. One of the seamen turned around, a short stocky sailor by the name of Smith. “The Scot has gone crazy sir. He went down to check the hold about two hours ago and then suddenly went fucking nuts. He’s bitten poor Eddie Daniels in the neck. He’s in a bad way at the back of the mess,” Smith said, tilting his head towards the end of the Mess Hall. Erik moved towards the Scot and the men restraining him. “What the hell is going on here?” he shouted, attempting to make sense of the situation. McNamara was staring at him through bloodshot, crazed eyes. Erik studied him, realising something was seriously wrong. He’d never seen a man looking so frenzied and intent on hurting him. Before Erik could ask another question, McNamara appeared to suddenly take on superhuman strength and broke free from the men restraining him. He lunged at Erik, immediately sinking his teeth into his left shoulder, before thrashing his neck back and fore like a crazed rabid dog. Second Officer Erik felt his flesh tear, and lightning bolts of pain radiated from his shoulder area, as all eighteen stone of the powerful Scot, with his stinking breath, pinned him to the floor. “Get him off! Get him off,” Erik shrieked. It took five crew men to wrench McNamara free. As soon as the man was pulled off, Erik staggered to his feet, blood pumping from the wound on his shoulder. He placed his left hand on the torn flesh, turned and fled the mess, leaving the crew to deal with the Scot as they saw fit. He didn’t care, he just wanted to escape the carnage and craziness of what had just happened.
He felt his way back along the corridor and back into the Communications Room, the wound on his shoulder throbbing with pain and pumping blood. Was he going to bleed to death? Get an infection? He reached for the bottle of rum he had in the small cabinet by the desk, pulled the cork out with his teeth and poured the amber liquid onto his bare shoulder, gritting his teeth in pain as the liquor penetrated the wound. He quickly started feeling dizzy, and his head started to fog up and spin. What the hell was going on? He sat at the desk and reached for the key of the telegraph machine and started frantically tapping out a message. Dash…dash…dash…dot…dash…dot…dot – We need help. This is the SS Ourang Medan, location, approximately 400 nautical miles south-east of the Marshal Islands. The crew are going crazy…fighting has broken out in the Mess…Captain is sick and crew members are dying…I die. Second Officer Erik felt his arms shaking and with his last ounce of strength he reached for some paper and scrawled a note, a last message. He grabbed the empty rum bottle, shoved the note inside and replaced and sealed the cork, turned and tossed it through the open porthole into the ocean.
With all his strength gone, he fell off his chair and collapsed onto the floor, the pain from his shoulder wound radiating into his head and upper body. His eyes then rolled up to the ceiling, his face contorting in pain as he felt an inky blackness envelop him.