Famous shipwreck discovered off the coast of South Africa

by mcardinal

Marion Bae, FISM News


A piece of history was uncovered this week when a team of scientists located Endurance, the exploration vessel of Sir Ernest Shackleton, that disappeared into the sea over one hundred years ago. 

In 1915, Shackleton set out to complete the first land crossing of Antarctica, with plans to start in the Weddell Sea and end in the Ross Sea. After leaving Cape Town, South Africa, on their way to Antarctica, the Endurance was surrounded by ice which eventually crushed the ship, causing it to sink. 

Shackleton and his crew survived but the ship did not. They abandoned the vessel before it succumbed to the ice and disappeared below the water. They used ice floats to set up temporary camps for months, drifting north, until eventually using the lifeboats to get to “inhospitable” Elephant Island. Shackleton and a reduced crew then took a lifeboat and traveled 800 miles to civilization, later going back to rescue the men left behind. 

This year, which marks one hundred years since the death of Shackleton, the Endurance22 project set out on an expidition to find the wreckage. They were thrilled when they find the wooden ship well preserved, four miles from its last known location, 3,008 meters below sea.

Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration for the expedition, said “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. This is a milestone in polar history.”

This achievement was announced by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust in a press release. 

Regarding the discovery, Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust Chairman, Donald Lamont, said “Our objectives for Endurance22 were to locate, survey and film the wreck, but also to conduct important scientific research, and to run an exceptional outreach program.”

The South African research and logistics vessel, S.A. Agulhas II, was used to complete the mission and carry the crew. They were able to survey the area and document the discovery with photos and videos. 

The wreckage site is now considered a protected historical sight, according to the Antarctic Treaty, which means it can be surveyed but not touched to ensure its preservation for generations to come. As Mensun continued in his statement, “…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.”

Endurance22 was not just about finding the ship but also using the discovery for scientific research. Dr. John Shears, Expedition Leader, explained in his statement, “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.”

During the expedition hundreds of hours of research were conducted by Chief Scientist Dr. Lasse Rabenstein and his team. Areas of study included sea ice thickness, Weddell Sea weather conditions, and ice drifts.

More photos and videos of the discovery can be found here. An in depth documentary for National Geographic’s EXPLORER series will also be premiering in the fall. It will air on National Geographic before being released on Disney+.