Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  29 January 2008 - The Brightest Maritime Daily

The EXPLORER as she sank last year

Royal Navy finds sunken wreck of ms EXPLORER
The Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Endurance has located the wreck of the cruise liner M/S Explorer, which sank in Antarctic waters last year...

The Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Endurance has located the wreck of the cruise liner M/S Explorer, which sank in Antarctic waters last year.

And in an echo from 1916, HMS Endurance has also taken the son of an Antarctic explorer to visit the desolate island where his father spent 138 days waiting for rescue after the original Endurance – part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition - was trapped in the ice, was crushed, and sank.

HMS Endurance is undertaking hydrographic survey and mapping work; providing support to the scientific work of the British Antarctic Survey and carrying out other tasking to deliver the UK’s responsibilities under the Antarctic Treaty.

The charting work contributes to the safety of shipping in the Antarctic region - work of particular significance with the increasing number of cruise liners visiting in the Antarctic. HMS Endurance herself went to the assistance of a cruise liner - the M/S Nordkapp - when that ship struck a rock and was holed early last year. And in November, the M/S Explorer hit ice and sank – luckily without loss of life.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also requested that HMS Endurance undertook a search for the wreck of the Explorer to ascertain its position, assess the likely condition of the vessel on the seabed and observe any ongoing fuel seepage or other evidence of pollution.

After an initial unsuccessful search earlier this month, Endurance re-visited the area and carried out a systematic search of an area ten kilometres by five using a Multibeam echo sounder. The seabed in the search area was flat and featureless, but a contact was detected at a range of 4373m from the reported sinking position of the vessel. When compared to the reported sinking position of M/S Explorer this was broadly consistent with the direction of the prevailing current.

The wreck’s position is at the north-west end of the Bransfield Strait, and was located at a depth of approximately 1130 metres. The actual location is at 620 24.2929’ south 570 11.7748’ west. It was judged that the depth of the wreck showed that it presented no hazard to shipping. Apart from the oil slick, no debris was seen in the water and no debris was observed on any of the land in the vicinity of the wreck visited by personnel from HMS Endurance.

Both the FCO and Ministry of Defence consider that finding M/S Explorer has highlighted the wider role and primary purpose of HMS Endurance in supporting the aims and principles of the Antarctic Treaty system.

Commanding Officer of HMS Endurance, Captain Bob Tarrant, said:
“I am very proud of my survey team who are operating our world class system at the edges of its performance. The Royal Navy continues to support UK responsibility to the Antarctic Treaty by surveying and charting the difficult waters of Antarctica to improve safety for all mariners”

The link with 1916, and the sinking of Shackleton’s Endurance, was provided by 67-year-old Mr Viv James, son of that ill-fated expedition’s physicist Reginald James. Mr James, who lives in South Africa, visited HMS Endurance when she was in Cape Town last year and was invited to join the ship for a work period which would take her to desolate Elephant Island, where his father and 21 others waited for rescue. Shackleton, who had set off in an open boat with a party of five, successfully reached South Georgia 800 miles away and after four attempts successfully returned to rescue his crew in a tug.

Viv James’ first glimpse of Elephant Island was from one of HMS Endurance’s Lynx helicopters, and later, after studying aerial pictures and those taken on the original expedition, he landed by boat at the actual site used in 1916. Safely back in HMS Endurance later, Viv described how the party was welcomed by “savagely growling” fur seals among the penguins. He said:

“With due respect to them, I picked my way onto the shore where there were fewer seals. Only then did I have time to look around me and actually see and smell the place where my father and his shipmates spent five winter months in a hut made from two upturned boats, being warmed and fed by penguins and seals like those that were surrounding me.”

“As we left, I thought ‘been there done that’, but my admiration for my father and his fellow explorers has increased tenfold and I will never forget today’s experience or Bob Tarrant, his crew and the Royal Navy for making it possible for me to do this.”



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