Shackleton's Endurance Wreck

Shackleton’s Endurance ship found 107 years after sinking off Antarctica

Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic, via PA Media

The wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous ship Endurance has finally been found, 107 years after it became trapped in sea ice and sank off the coast of Antarctica.

The three-mast wooden ship had not been seen since it sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915, having been gradually crushed by pack ice. In February this year, the Endurance22 Expedition set off from Cape Town, South Africa, one month after the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest’s death on a mission to locate it.

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust said Endurance was found at a depth of 3,008 metres and approximately four miles south of the position originally recorded by the ship’s captain Frank Worsley.

The ship was located using two battery-powered submersibles - undersea drones - which combed the seafloor in six-hour stretches twice a day, using sonar to scan the seabed and identify any objects standing proud. Once the wreck had been located, the equipment was swapped for high-resolution cameras in order to capture the wreck in greater detail.

Mensun Bound, the expedition’s director of exploration, said footage of Endurance showed it to be intact and “by far the finest wooden shipwreck” he has seen.

“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance," he said. “It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in polar history.”

The well-preserved state of the wooden ship was not unexpected, given the extreme cold of the water and the lack of wood-eating organisms in Antarctic waters.

Dr John Shears, the expedition leader, said his team, which was accompanied by historian Dan Snow, had made “polar history” by completing what he called “the world’s most challenging shipwreck search”.

He said: “In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.

“We have also conducted an unprecedented educational outreach programme, with live broadcasting from on board, allowing new generations from around the world to engage with Endurance22 and become inspired by the amazing stories of polar exploration, and what human beings can achieve and the obstacles they can overcome when they work together.”

In a series of tweets, Snow wrote: “Endurance has been found. Discovered at 3,000 metres on 5 March 2022, 100 years to the day since Shackleton was buried.

“After weeks of searching Endurance was found within the search box conceived by Mensun Bound, only just over four miles south of the location at which its captain Frank Worsley calculated it had sunk. The entire team aboard #Endurance22 are happy and a little exhausted!

“Nothing was touched on the wreck. Nothing retrieved. It was surveyed using the latest tools and its position confirmed. It is protected by the Antarctic Treaty. Nor did we wish to tamper with it.”

He said the wreck is “coherent” and in an “astonishing state of preservation”.

The expedition has cost over $10m, with the money provided by a donor who wished to remain anonymous. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, the wreck is considered a historical monument. The submersibles did not touch it and the images and scans captured will be used in future for education purposes and museum exhibits.

Reflecting on the expedition's purpose, Bound said: “It is not all about the past; we are bringing the story of Shackleton and Endurance to new audiences, and to the next generation, who will be entrusted with the essential safeguarding of our polar regions and our planet.

“We hope our discovery will engage young people and inspire them with the pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed Endurance to Antarctica. We pay tribute to the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, whose detailed records were invaluable in our quest to locate the wreck."

Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica, but Endurance did not reach land and became trapped in dense pack ice, forcing the 28 men on board to eventually abandon ship. They were stuck in the ice for around 10 months, before escaping in lifeboats and on foot.

The story of that original expedition and the crew's heroic survival in the harshest of conditions continues to inspire modern-day explorers. In 2013, celebrating the centenary of Shackleton's Antarctic adventures, environmental engineer Tim Jarvis led a team in recreating the famous rescue mission, even going so far as commissioning an exact replica of the original wooden James Caird lifeboat in which Shackleton and his men escaped a frozen fate.

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