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Endurance to be protected from treasure-hunters

Taffrail and ship's wheel, aft well deck {FMHT / NatGeo)
Taffrail and ship's wheel, aft well deck {FMHT / NatGeo)
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The wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s polar exploration ship Endurance, discovered earlier this year and feared to be vulnerable to treasure-hunters, is to receive protection – although it might take some years to become effective.

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) and Historic England are due to begin work on devising a conservation management plan for the iconic British shipwreck, but say it is expected to take two years to come to fruition.

Endurance trapped in Antarctic ice (Library of Congress)
Endurance trapped in Antarctic ice (Library of Congress)

Endurance was used by Shackleton during his 1914-16 Antarctic Expedition and ended up being trapped and crushed by sea ice and sinking. In 2019, before the wreck had been located, it was designated under the Antarctic Treaty System as a protected historic site and monument. 

In March this year the British-led Endurance22 expedition, organised and managed by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust (FMHT), discovered the ship 3km deep in the icy Weddell Sea – 100 years to the day after Shackleton’s burial at Grytviken in South Georgia. They found it some 6km south of the position originally recorded by Captain Frank Worsley.

The discovery of Endurance was soon followed by reports that the expedition team were concerned about the threat of possible human interference, despite the inaccessibility and depth of the wreck-site, as reported on Divernet.

Exploration director Mensun Bound said he feared Endurance would fall prey to plundering by “rogue organisations” and treasure-hunters equipped with Russian submarines, and that the perfectly preserved artefacts on board could end up on display in “Las Vegas hotels”, as had occurred following the 1985 discovery of the even deeper-lying Titanic

Mensun Bound (Esther Horvath / FMHT)
Mensun Bound (Esther Horvath / FMHT)

The Endurance crew had evacuated their ship hurriedly as it flooded, leaving “a huge amount” of personal effects in their cabins. Bound expressed his hope that a “right-thinking” archaeological organisation might access the wreck to help maintain or even restore it as an educational site.

Once completed, the conservation management plan, which has been commissioned by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, has to be presented to the Committee for Environmental Protection at an Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting. 

Starboard bow (FMHT / Nat Geo)
Starboard bow of Endurance (FMHT / Nat Geo)

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

Also on Divernet: Polar Spectacle: 60 Million Nesting Icefish, Fin Whales Welcomed Back To Antarctica, ‘Amazing’ Seabed Revealed As Ice Shield Parts

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