The location of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance has been one of the great maritime mysteries since the ship was trapped in ice and sank in 1915. For a long time it was thought that it was impossible to find this symbol of the “heroic age” of the Polar exploration at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. due to the harshness of the Antarctic environment – “the bad conditions”, as Shackleton described them.
Now a major scientific expedition is being planned, announced Monday, with the mission of locating, studying and filming the wreck.
Endurance22 will launch early next year, on a ship that will brave the most treacherous icy waters, making its way through miles of ice blocks.
The effects of climate change will make the expedition a little less difficult, as the melting ice will make it easier for the ship to pass. An international team of scientists with experience in the study of ice and climate will be on board, advancing knowledge of the Antarctic environment.
Mensun Bound, its director of exploration, spearheaded the 2019 search for the Endurance that had to be canceled due to extreme weather conditions, after an underwater vehicle was trapped under the ice.
He told The Guardian: “There is a complexity of emotions stirring within me. On the one hand, there is great emotion. On the other hand, for the past three years, I have had to carry this lingering sadness in me that we didn’t find it the last time. It is never far from my thoughts. That ship is always provoking my imagination. “
Bound said that global warming in Antarctica is “absolutely devastating” but that the melting ice “has improved our chances” of discovering the wreck.
Speaking of the dangers, he said that if the tourist boats went deep into the Weddell Sea, “they would open like a mullet on the slab of a fishmonger.”
Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica is an epic tale of courage and survival through thick and thin. The Endurance was trapped in the ice off the coast of Caird and adrift for months before being crushed. Some of his men roamed icebergs for months before reaching uninhabited Elephant Island, where they lived on penguins and even expedition dogs. Shackleton and five others reached South Georgia Island in a whaling boat, eventually rescuing the others from Elephant Island, and all 28 crew members returned alive.
The Endurance is believed to be at a depth of more than 3,000 meters. Although the vessel was crushed, its beams are likely well preserved as a result of the extreme cold, the absence of light, and the relative lack of oxygen.
The sturdiness of the boat’s construction may mean that much of it is intact. There is even hope that the expedition may find glass plates left behind by photographer Frank Hurley, among other artifacts in the wreck.
The privately funded expedition has been planned by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust (FMHT), which organized the successful search for sunken German warships in 1914 during the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
Endurance22’s vessel, SA Agulhas II, is owned by the South African government and will set sail from Cape Town early next year, after two years of planning.
It has heavy-duty icebreakers that will plow through the ice for miles and miles, Bound said: “Our ship is part mallet, part excavator and part Swiss army knife. It is a battle. Last time, we ourselves got stuck in the ice, not once but several times, just like the Endurance did, and those were quite troubling moments. “
The team will use Saab Sabertooth underwater search vehicles, equipped with sensors, lights and cameras to bring the discoveries to a global audience. If the Agulhas II can’t get close enough, they are planning an ice camp where the Sabretooth could be lowered through a hole drilled in the ice.
John Shears, the expedition leader, said that with the vessel, an outstanding crew and state-of-the-art technology, “there has never been such a good opportunity to locate the Endurance.”
Bound has been researching archival material and perusing the journal entries for clues to the wreck’s location beyond the famous coordinates recorded by Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s master navigator.
“Everything revolves around that little gush of information,” he said. “We were close in 2019. We covered more than half the search area, up to 9 km wide … But Worsley never took his coordinates on the day the ship sank. His last observation was almost three days earlier. What was the ship doing in those three days? What was the speed and direction of the drift? All those things I have to take into account. “
Richard Garriott, President of the Explorers Club, said: “Endurance22 is without a doubt one of the most important expeditions undertaken in recent times.”
Donald Lamont, President of FMHT, said: “We hope this effort brings the story of Shackleton and his ship to a younger generation, inspiring their interest in the science and environmental importance of Antarctica for all of us.”
When asked what it would mean for him to find the Endurance, Bound said, “I would probably retire after that because what do you do after you find the Endurance?”