Century-old shipwreck found in Antarctic
The wreck of Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance ship has been found, 106 years after it sank east of Antarctica trying to reach the pole. A team of marine archaeologists, technicians, and “adventurers” dubbed Endurance22 reported it found on Wednesday, having spent over two weeks searching the ice-choked area using undersea drones.
“We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search,” expedition director John Shears said in a statement issued by the expedition on Wednesday.
The 144-foot three-masted wooden ship was discovered in unusually pristine condition at the bottom of the Weddell Sea as the team searched a 150 square-mile area near where it sank in 1915, bottoming out 10,000 feet beneath the surface in some of the coldest waters on the planet. Those conditions likely saved it from the decay that affects shipwrecks in warmer, more-traveled waters, keeping wood-eating organisms at bay.
Expedition director Mensun Bound, a veteran of other shipwreck discovery missions, declared the Endurance the finest wreck he had ever seen. With the ship both upright and clear of the seabed, it was in a “brilliant state of preservation,” he said in the expedition’s statement. While video taken by the expedition team appeared to show some broken masts and damage to the decks, Bound nevertheless referred to it as “intact.” The vessel was found four miles south of the last location recorded by Shackleton’s navigator.
While the explorer never made it to the South Pole in 1915, he managed to rescue the entire crew of his doomed ship, which became stuck in sea ice less than 100 miles from its destination after sailing from England. While Shackleton had hoped to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica, instead the ship was slowly crushed by the ice over the next 10 months, with the crew ultimately setting up camp on the ice as they watched their ticket home be gradually destroyed. Shackleton and a few of the crew, however, were able to pilot a small lifeboat 800 miles to South Georgia island, where the expedition leader successfully organized the rescue of the remaining crew members.
The discovery voyage over a century later had a much shorter distance to travel, aboard the icebreaker Agulhas II from Cape Town. The shipwreck will be left in place under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, which classifies it as a historical monument. However, the crew took extensive photos and film of the submerged ship, and a documentary and museum exhibits are planned.
The voyage was financed by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, costing upwards of $10 million. Project manager Nico Vincent said several world records had been set to “ensure the safe detection of Endurance.” While the shipwreck hunters sought out the famous vessel, a team of scientists took hundreds of ice samples hoping to learn to what extent climate change had altered the region’s notoriously persistent ice cover.