Tuesday 16 July 2019

'Evil sea' ends search for Shackleton's ship

Ernest Shackleton. Photos: PA
Ernest Shackleton. Photos: PA
A hut in the Antarctic that was used by Shackleton. Photos: PA
The Endurance stuck in pack ice. Photos: PA
The crew hauling the James Caird, after the Endurance broke up, with Shackleton looking on. Photos: PA

Nick Squires

An expedition to find the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton's ship, has been defeated by horrendous weather and pack ice - the very conditions that trapped the explorer's vessel in Antarctica more than a century ago.

The expedition was called off after "extreme weather conditions" led to the loss of an autonomous robotic submarine that, it was hoped, would have located the wreck.

The Endurance became trapped in pack ice and sank to the bottom of the Weddell Sea in 1915.

The expedition reached the wreck site earlier this week, relying on detailed records left by Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, and deployed the submersible.

The underwater robot, known as AUV7, was on the final leg of a 30-hour mission, deep beneath the ice, when contact was lost between it and the expedition ship, the SA Agulhas II. Running the risk of becoming trapped in the ice itself, as the Endurance was, the polar research vessel had to withdraw.

Frustratingly for the team, it is not known whether the submersible captured images of the Endurance wreck.

"As a team we are clearly disappointed not to have been successful in our mission to find Endurance," said Mensun Bound, director of exploration.

"Like Shackleton before us, who described the graveyard of Endurance as 'the worst portion of the worst sea in the world', our well-laid plans were overcome by the rapidly moving ice, and what Shackleton called 'the evil conditions of the Weddell Sea'."

Oliver Plunkett, the head of Ocean Infinity, the American company which provided the underwater sub, said: "Everyone at Ocean Infinity is deeply disappointed that at the 11th-hour, we were not able to produce the images of what is without doubt the most challenging shipwreck in the world to locate."

While it failed to find the Endurance, the expedition did collect valuable information on the Larsen C Ice Shelf, which two years ago calved a huge iceberg known as A68.

That research will contribute to the understanding of how the continent is being affected by climate change.

The expedition will soon embark on its return journey to Cape Town.

The story of how Shackleton, who was born in Kilkea, Co Kildare, managed to save his crew after the loss of the Endurance is one of the world's great survival stories. They were members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the objective of which was to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.

But after the three-masted Endurance became trapped in ice, eventually being crushed to bits after 10 months, Shackleton and his 27-man crew made their way north in lifeboats, sailing over stretches of water and dragging them over ice floes.

They reached Elephant Island, at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, where Shackleton left the bulk of the crew.

Leaving them to subsist on penguins and seal meat, he then set off with five others, in a tiny boat, to try to reach the island of South Georgia, 1,280km away.

Remarkably, they made it, but then had to haul themselves over a range of mountains in order to reach a whaling station on the other side of the island.

After regaining his strength, Shackleton succeeded in rescuing the rest of his crew from Elephant Island. Not one man died. Shackleton embarked on another Antarctic expedition in 1921 but died on South Georgia at the start of the journey. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News