Sabertooths help locate Shackleton’s Endurance

Attempts to locate the wreckage of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance are made possible with Sabertooth hybrid underwater search vehicles supplied by Saab.

The hybrid vehicles combine the features of a Remote Operating Vehicle (ROV) – always coupled to the surface – and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) – which can operate without a clutch.

Equipped with high-definition cameras and side-scan imaging capabilities, Sabertooths can search and map massive tracts of the ocean floor to depths of up to 4,000 m (13,123 feet), sending the data to the surface in real time.

According to the expedition, Sabertooths can reach locations up to 100 miles from the ship from which they are launched and return with photos, video and research data. If sea ice conditions are difficult, it may still be possible for the expedition to investigate the wreck site.

Nico Vincent, Subsea Project Manager of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust’s Endurance22 Expeditionsaid: “This is the most complex submarine project ever undertaken, setting several world records to ensure the safe detection of Endurance.


“State-of-the-art submarine technologies have been deployed to achieve this successful outcome and I would like to especially thank the submarine team for all the technical support, both on board the vessel and during the months of planning, design and testing. They all showed tremendous commitment and resilience, worthy of the best tradition of polar exploration.”

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 was Sir Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to make Antarctica’s first land crossing from the Weddell Sea through the South Pole to the Ross Sea.

The Ross Sea Party landed at Hut Point on Ross Island to set up supply dumps for Shackleton’s crossing.

Endurance became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea in 1915, forcing the 28 crew members to abandon ship. After settling on Elephant Island, Shackleton and five others made an 800-mile journey in a lifeboat to reach South Georgia. From there, Shackleton launched a rescue mission for the men on Elephant Island.

The stern of the Endurance named and emblematic North Star Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

One hundred years after Shackleton’s death, Endurance was found at a depth of 3,008 m in the Weddell Sea, within the search area determined by the expedition team prior to departure from Cape Town, and approximately four miles south of the position originally recorded by Captain Frank Worsley.

The team worked from the South African polar research and logistics vessel SA Agulhas II, under Master, Captain Kennis Bengu. The wreck is protected as a historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty; the wreckage can be viewed and filmed but will not be touched or disturbed in any way.

Mensun Bound, director of the expedition’s exploration, said: “We are overwhelmed with our good fortune to have found and captured images of Endurance. This is by far the most beautiful wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It stands upright, proud of the seabed, intact and in a superb state of preservation, you can even see “Endurance” curving over the stern, directly below the taffrail. This is a milestone in Arctic history.”

An account of the Sabretooth’s pre-expedition testing regime can be found here

Abhishek Maheswari
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