Cape Town’s finest lead the way to the shipwreck find of the Century

Date:9 March 2022 Author: Robyn Simpson

The S.A. Agulhas II left Cape Town harbour just over a month ago in search of a shipwreck that sunk to the bottom of Antarctica’s Weddel Sea in 1915. S.A. Agulhas II is owned by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and travels under Master, Captain Knowledge Bengu.

The S.A. Agulhas II. Picture: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James Blake

With a full South African crew and some of Cape Town’s leading minds aboard, the mission was set: find polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance. It was supposed to be the first vessel to cross Antarctica via the South Pole.

Africa on ice. Picture: Dan Snow / Instagram

Shackleton’s adventures were put on ice when his ride was crushed, well, by ice during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition embarked on in 1915. The ship was abandoned and met its match with the ocean floor. A relationship that has proved the test of time. Until now.

65 scientists and explorers, more than a century later, and 3008 meters below the oceans surface, Shackleton’s vessel has been found!

Picture: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James Blake

It took the crew 33 days, using S.A. Agulhas II helicopters, advanced remote-controlled underwater vehicles and a truly South African sense of adventure to pinpoint the Endurance’s location.

Picture: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James BlakeCredit Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James Blake

A glorious wooden vessel, with ‘Endurance’ still clearly visible, sits roughly 6.5 kilometres south of its originally recorded location. Captain Frank Worsley was the last behind its helm.

Picture: Dan Snow / Instagram

Dr John Shears, Expedition Leader, said that the team has “made polar history with the discovery of Endurance, and successfully completed the world’s most challenging shipwreck search”. More than just an awesome historic discovery, he also pointed to the important scientific work done on the expedition that “directly affects the global climate and environment”.

A win for history and for the future:

Under the leadership of Dr Lasse Rabenstein, Endurance22’s Chief Scientist, a world-leading team of scientists from research and educational institutions successfully conducted hundreds of hours of climate change-related studies over the duration of the expedition.

Picture: Heritage Trust and James Blake

Representatives from the South African Weather Service, German firm Drift & Noise, Germany’s Alfred-Wegener-Institute, German Space Agency (DLR), Aalto University in Finland and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University researched the ice drifts, weather conditions of the Weddell Sea, studies of sea ice thickness, and were able to map the sea ice from space.

Combined, these important studies will help us understand this remote region and how it influences our changing climate.

The wreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that while the wreck is being surveyed and filmed, it will not be touched or disturbed in any way.

Picture: Picture: Dan Snow / Instagram

Latest Issue :

May-June 2022