Sir Ernest Shackleton’s wrecked ship the Endurance, one of the most famous explorer vessels ever, has been discovered in the Weddell Sea 107 years after it sank.

The Endurance was shipwrecked in 1915 on an expedition to the Antarctic after it was crushed by pack ice as Shackleton and his crew tried to make their way to Vahsel Bay. Its destruction led to one of the most famous survival stories of all time.

An expedition, known as ‘‘Endurnace22, to find the wreck was undertaken by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. After a month-long voyage on a South African icebreaker ship, Agulhas II, the trust confirmed the discovery this morning with incredible images of the wooden ship.

The discovery was made 100 years after the death of the expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The three-masted barquentine ship, which used a mix of steam power and sails, was built in Norway in 1912 and designed for maximum structural strength, such as every joint and fixing being cross braced.

Starboard bow. Photo : Credit Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

The Endurance shipwreck was found at a depth of 3,008 metres in the Weddell Sea. Its location is only four miles from the last recorded position noted by the ship’s captain.

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust team worked from a polar research vessel based in South Africa and employed ‘Sabretooth’ deep sea underwater search vehicles to capture the footage and photos of the long lost ship.

The expedition leader Dr John Shear said after the discovery was announced:

“The Endurance22 expedition has reached its goal. We have made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search. In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.”

Nico Vincent, Subsea Project Manager, said of the monumental technical task of searching for the Endurance: “This has been the most complex subsea project ever undertaken.

“State of the art subsea technologies have been deployed to achieve this successful outcome and I would particularly like to thank the subsea team for all of the engineering support, both on board the ship and throughout the months of planning, design and testing.”

The frozen waters of the Antarctic and relative lack of wildlife have helped preserve the wooden wreck of the Endurance and the condition it is in is nothing short of incredible.

Taffrail and ship’s wheel, aft well deck. Photo: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

“This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. 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,” explained Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration on the expedition.

The Endurance shipwreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that whilst the wreck is being surveyed and filmed it will not be touched or disturbed in any way.
The Last Voyage of the Endurance.

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Shackleton was attempting to make the first land crossing of Antarctica when the Endurance sank within sight of its intended landing site and the 28 crewmembers aboard were forced to abandon the ship.

They camped for months in makeshift tents on ice flows that slowly drifted north. Initially the crew survived on what little provisions they had with them, but as weeks progressed their supplies ran low.

The decision was made to try and use Endurance’s lifeboats to sail to the uninhabited Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and five others made an extraordinary voyage, in an open topped lifeboat, to South Georgia where they hoped to find an inhabited whaling station. The perilous crossing meant covering a distance of 800 miles (1,300 km) in rough Antarctic seas.

From their landing point on South Georgia, Shackleton and two other men then made a gruelling journey across the mountainous island to find the station. From there they mounted a rescue which would see all the crew return home safely.


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