Sea History 179 - Summer 2022

Page 44

courtesy falklands maritime heritage trust and nick birtwistle

has made it easy for people to learn about the ill-fated expedition. The last any human laid eyes on the ship was on 21 November 1915, when the ship, heavily damaged by the crushing pressure of the ice pack, sank after being trapped in the ice for 10 months. The mission shifted to one of self-rescue, and, for all the attention the story has received over the last century, little attention has been given to the fate of Endurance. Until recently. After a private donor funded the 2022 expedition to the tune of more than $10 million, the goal to find Endurance became the primary focus. A ship and crew were assembled to carry out the mission towards the end of the Antarctic summer, when the ice would be at its thinnest. The team put to sea from Cape Town aboard a South African polar research and logistics vessel, Agulhas II, owned by the Department of

Agulhas II entered the Weddell Sea in mid-February 2022 and began deploying the AUV shortly afterwards. The 440-foot polar research vessel was built for navigating through and breaking ice. It can push through ice one meter thick at a speed of five knots.

royal geographical society

Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. The expedition’s departure was widely covered in the news. Few outsiders had faith that there would be much left to see, even if they did find the ship’s remains on the seafloor, considering the photographs Frank Hurley shot in the weeks before the ship sank, showing the rig crumpled and tangled in a complicated mess of wire, rope, and splintered wood. Onboard Agulhas II, the expedition leaders were confident that the hull was likely to be intact and that the conditions in the depths of Antarctic waters would have preserved the wood and metal components of the ship. After approximately thirty dives with the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) in a predefined search area, the wreck site was located in nearly 10,000 feet of water, sitting upright and in an excellent state of preservation. Maritime archaeologists rarely get such immediate and conclusive evidence that allows them to identify a given


So determined was photographer Frank Hurley to save his glass-plate negatives documenting the expedition that he returned to the flooded ship after they had abandoned it to retrieve them. Recovering more than 120, Shackleton reportedly had him smash the remaining plates so he would not be tempted to return for the others. SEA HISTORY 179, SUMMER 2022