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Shackleton’s ship Endurance ‘will be accessible’

Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship will be one of the most “easily accessible shipwrecks” despite remaining under the sea, the team preserving the site has said.

Endurance became stuck in ice and sank in the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica in 1915, and was lost until it was located by a British-led expedition last year, months after the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death.

The explorer, who was born in Kilkea, Co Kildare in 1874, himself described the site of the sink as “the worst portion of the worst sea in the world”.

The shipwreck is 3,000 metres below sea level in a “very stable” condition, and those developing a conservation management plan say their recommendation is to leave it there.

There is a “risk” of people travelling to the site to steal from Endurance, a maritime archaeologist said, although this is “relatively minor” due to its remote location.

Camilla Nichol, of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), told the PA news agency: “Endurance is best preserved and kept on the seafloor where it is at the moment.

“It’s stable, it’s preserved, it’s in great shape considering its demise in 1915.

“The recommendation is absolutely to leave it in situ and intact, no retrieving of the ship’s bell or anything like that. Keep it whole so it can tell its story coherently.”

Historic England maritime archaeologist Hefin Meara said: “It’s not hidden away, it’s almost the opposite. Because of the digital data that’s been collected it’s going to be one of the most easily accessible shipwrecks for people to explore and understand ever.

“Although the physical remains are distant and inaccessible, there’s so much that we can share, so many ways to engage with people that actually people can have more information about this site than they could about sites that are much closer to home.”

Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance trapped in ice

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) commissioned the UKAHT to develop a conservation management plan.

The plan has identified the challenges to conserve the wreck – which is designated a protected historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty System – and recommended measures to secure its protection as well as educate on the importance of the site.

Mr Meara said teams are working out how to collate digital data from the shipwreck to present information to the public. One idea was a virtual dive trail, using technology to create a 3D image.

The Ernest Shackleton statue in Athy, Co Kildare

However, the archaeologist said modern technology could pose a “huge risk” to the project if used incorrectly.

Autonomous underwater vehicles used to survey the site could collide with the ship or get tangled in the wreck, Mr Meara said.

He went on: “You’ve also got a risk from unauthorised activities, if somebody tries to go and steal.
“We think at the moment that risk is relatively minor just because of how remote it is.”

Shackleton and his crew set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica, but Endurance did not reach land and became trapped in dense pack ice, forcing the 28 men on board to abandon ship.

They were stuck in the ice for around 10 months before escaping in lifeboats and on foot.

Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of the explorer, is being updated on the strategy to protect and conserve the wreck.

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