New expedition to search for wreck of Antarctic explorer Shackleton’s lost ship

Rob Waugh
Contributor
The ship was crushed by pack ice and lost (Picture Getty)

A new scientific expedition will use autonomous underwater vehicles to search for the Endurance, the lost ship of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton’s ship sank in 1916, after a disastrous journey which saw the ship trapped in pack ice and crushed.

Shackleton and his crew camped on the sea ice, then launched lifeboats on a daring 800-mile journey to the island of South Georgia where they were rescued.

Now scientists led by Professor Julian Dowdeswell are to search for the wreckage of the Endurance where it sank in the Weddell Sea.

Ernest Shackleton (Picture Getty)

Dowdeswell and his team are investigating the Larsen C ice shelf – but aim to use autonomous underwater vehicles to search for the Endurance.

Professor Dowdeswell says, ‘It would be a shame not to.

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‘In our study of Larsen, we will be operating autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). But if we can get them in range of where Endurance is thought to be, we will send them under the ice to do a survey.

‘They are fitted with downward-looking multi-beam echosounders, which can map out on a grid the shape of the seafloor.

British scientists will now search for the Endurance (Picture Getty)

‘You look at that for any signs of the ship and then focus in with cameras if you find something interesting.’

After leaving Plymouth on August 8, 1914 –only days after the First World War had started – the ship became stuck in ice the following February.

The crew of 28 men camped in freezing conditions for more than a year hoping that ice floes would either take them to safety or the thaw.

It did not – and eventually Endurance began to sink with the men still stuck on the ice – so Shackleton decided to launch their three lifeboats.

In April 1916, they crammed into 22ft-long open vessels and spent seven days at sea in temperatures as low as –30C before reaching Elephant Island.

But the island, which lies 150 miles northeast of the Arctic Peninsula, was still extremely frigid, uninhabited, rarely visited by whalers who might help rescue them.

So Shackleton and five other volunteered to take the James Caird lifeboat on an 800-mile trip to South Georgia, which remains a British territory.

They braved hurricane winds and took 16 days to get there – before spending a further 11 days trekking over the remote and mountainous island to get help on the other side.

Shackleton then sailed back round to where they had first landed to pick up his three sick crewmates before heading back to Elephant Island to rescue the other 22.