Plan to be developed to secure future of Shackleton’s ship Endurance

·4-min read

A strategy is to be developed to protect and conserve the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance.

The vessel used by the explorer during his 1914 to 1917 expedition sank 107 years ago on November 21, 1915, after becoming trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica.

All of the 27-strong crew survived and were eventually rescued the following year.

A British-led expedition, Endurance22, discovered the well-preserved wreck at 3,008 metres below sea level on March 5, 2022.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has commissioned the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) to develop a conservation management plan.

Wreck of Endurance found
The Endurance keeling over (Royal Geographic Society/PA)

The plan will identify the challenges to conserve the wreck – which is designated a protected historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty System – and recommend measures to secure its protection as well as educate on the importance of the site.

Camilla Nichol, UKAHT chief executive, said: “The remarkable story of the Endurance is universally known and the ship’s association with Shackleton gives it global significance.

“Its story is one of the greatest feats of endeavour and survival ever told.

“Now the location is known, it is our responsibility to make sure that Endurance is protected.

“I am delighted that we are able to announce this partnership with Historic England which brings together our shared expertise in Antarctic heritage and the protection of shipwrecks.

Wreck of Endurance found
The taffrail, ship’s wheel and aft well deck on the wreck (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Georgraphic/PA)

“Our aim is to ensure that future human activity serves only to benefit and protect Endurance and the stories associated with the ship continue to inspire and inform us in the future.”

Speaking during a UKAHT webinar, Dr John Shears, Endurance22 expedition leader, described how he had almost given up hope of finding the ship after losing a submarine drone (UAV) on a previous attempt in 2019.

He said: “I was extremely worried, we were into day 18, the weather was coming in, temperatures were dropping, I was so worried I took my mind off it by walking to an iceberg.”

But he said he told a colleague that he had a “good feeling about that day” and told him: “I think she is beneath our feet.”

He continued: “I had never said that before and as we got back to the ship the tannoy began blaring, I thought we had lost another UAV, another multimillion pound loss.”

He was then shown a high frequency sonar picture of the wreck and said: “She was all in one piece, I was dumbstruck and the bridge erupted, everyone was running around, hugging each other.”

He added: “We were astounded by the condition of the ship, it’s as if she sank yesterday.”

When asked if there were plans to raise the wreck, Dr Shears said: “Trying to do this at 3,000 metres with sea ice all around is technically an impossibility – the very best place for that ship is the sea floor, it has done her very well for 107 years.”

Historic England’s maritime archaeologist Hefin Meara said the management plan would look at how environmental conditions could affect the wreck.

He said: “There is going to be ongoing effects as the site slowly decays.

Wreck of Endurance found
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship had not been seen since it was crushed by the ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915 (Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic/PA)

“It’s in fantastic condition but it’s important to monitor that and how climate change is affecting the site.”

An FCDO spokesman said: “The Endurance is well protected in its location 3,000m below an ice-covered Weddell Sea.

“However, due to climate change and shrinking sea ice, that may not last forever.

“That is why we have commissioned the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to work with experts to prepare a conservation management plan, and to consider whether additional protection measures are needed.

“We have already declared it a historic site and Antarctic Treaty members have agreed to increase the protection zone around it from 150m to 500m.

“This incredibly well-preserved ship, and its artefacts, are a part of the Shackleton legacy – they must be safeguarded so they can inspire future generations.”