Explorer Ernest Shackleton’s last ship found on ocean floor

Sonar image of Shackleton's last ship Quest on the seafloor A sonar image of Quest on the sea floor. Image courtesy of RCGS.

Wreck hunters have located the ship on which polar explorer Ernest Shackleton made his final voyage. The vessel, named Quest, was rediscovered on the seafloor off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Sir Shackleton was an Anglo-Irish explorer who made three expeditions to Antarctica, most famously in 1914 on the Endurance.

Quest ship

Shackleton died on Quest (pictured left) in 1922, after suffering a heart attack en route to Antarctica at the age of 47.

The ship continued in service until it sank in 1962, while being used by Norwegian sealers, but always had significance due to its links with the famed explorer.

“His final voyage kind of ended that Heroic Age of Exploration, of polar exploration, certainly in the south,” shipwreck hunter David Mearns, who directed the successful search operation, tells BBC News.

“Afterwards, it was what you would call the scientific age. In the pantheon of polar ships, Quest is definitely an icon.”

The search efforts were led by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) using sonar equipment. On Sunday (9 June 2024), the team located the 38-metre schooner-rigged steamship in around 400m of water on the bed of the Labrador Sea. The ship, which is sitting almost upright, has a broken main mast but is otherwise largely intact.

The ship was sunk by thick sea ice, which pierced the hull, although the crew survived. This is the same fate that met Endurance, the ship Shackleton used on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917.

The remarkably well-preserved wreck of the Endurance was found at a depth of 3,008m in the Weddell Sea in 2022, 107 years after it sank.

Shackleton had been headed to the Antarctic aboard Quest, on a mission to map the continent’s islands and look for places to install infrastructure such as weather stations. However, the explorer was struck by heart failure in South Georgia, in the Port of Grytviken, and never made it.

After Shackleton’s death, Quest was used in other expeditions including Arctic rescues and was the primary expedition vessel of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition to the east coast of the island of Greenland in 1930–1931.

Shipwreck of Shackleton's Endurance .
Shackleton’s Endurance was found in 2022. Photo courtesy of Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic.

Quest was also used by the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII, before being turned over to the sealers.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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