Antarctica: SA Agulhas II travels through Weddell Sea
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The Endurance22 mission marks the second time polar researchers will try to locate the ship that became trapped in ice in the Antarctic in 1915. The expedition will launch 100 years after Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of Britain’s most renowned polar explorers, died on January 5, 1922. Launched by The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust (FMHT), the expedition will try to locate, survey and document the wreck in the Weddell Sea – a body of water bordering the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Endurance was famously trapped after departing from South Georgia for the Weddel Seal in December 1914.
By mid-January, the ship became trapped in ice floe – loose drift ice – forcing Sir Ernest and his crew to abandon the ship on February 24.
Unfortunately, the arrival of spring did very little to help dislodge the ship in the following months and by November 21, 1915, the Endurance was crushed and sank under the ice.
Past attempts to locate the wreck have come tantalisingly close, with the 2019 Weddell Sea Expedition reaching the believed sight of the wreck.
The mission went as far as deploying an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to survey the ocean floor.
However, just 20 hours into its mission, the drone lost all contact with the expedition’s SA Agulhas II vessel, forcing the mission to end prematurely.
The SA Agulhas II will now set sail once again and, pending approval from South Africa’s authorities, will launch from Cape Town on February 22, 2022, in hopes of finding the Endurance.
The team behind the expedition has previously uncovered the wreck of a German ship sunk in the 1914 Battle of the Falklands, so hopes are high for the success of this mission.
The expedition will be led by Dr John Shears who also led the 2019 Weddel Sea Expedition, as well as maritime archaeologist Mensun Bound.
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This time around, the team will deploy new SAAB Sabertooth hybrid underwater search vehicles.
The cutting-edge tech can be pre-programmed to scan the ocean floor without any physical links to the surface.
Dr Shears said: “We are preparing thoroughly for this amazing Antarctic expedition and will be setting off from Cape Town in early 2022 after two years of careful planning.
“There is a mood of optimism amongst the Endurance22 team that we can find, survey and film the wreck because we will have a fantastic vessel in SA Agulhas II, an outstanding and experienced crew, and we will be using the cutting-edge technology of the SAAB Sabertooths.
“There has never been as good an opportunity to locate Endurance.”
Another advantage this mission has over its predecessor is the Sabertooth can be deployed from the surface.
This will allow the expedition to set up camp on the ice and launch the drones by drilling holes in the ice.
Mr Bound said: “Attempting to locate the wreck of Endurance, something long thought impossible and out of reach, is an immensely exciting prospect.
“Given the harshness of the Antarctic environment, there are no guarantees of success, but we remain inspired by the great Antarctic explorers and embark on Endurance22 with high hopes.
“With the best possible technology and a world-leading exploration team, we hope and pray that we can achieve a landmark moment in polar history.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton is counted among the greatest polar explorers to have ever lived.
His exploits took place during the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which began towards the end of the 19th century.
In 1909, the explorer was knighted by King Edward VII when is 1907 Nimrod expedition reached within 112 miles (180km) of the South Pole.
In total, Sir Ernest led three expeditions to the Antarctic.
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