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Endurance

How Saab helped find Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic shipwreck

5 min read + Video

One of the world’s great lost shipwrecks, Endurance, has just been found, 107 years after she sank off the coast of Antarctica. The incredible rediscovery of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous ship was made by a team using 21st century technology, with underwater equipment and two employees from Saab involved.

In the century since she sank off the coast of Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’ has assumed legendary status, as one of the world’s great lost shipwrecks.

The Endurance three-masted ship of Shackleton’s 1914-1915 Antarctic expedition.
The Endurance three-masted ship of Shackleton’s 1914-1915 Antarctic expedition.

But, in a stunning turn of events, the wooden three-masted ship belonging to the famous polar explorer has just been found, sitting three kilometres underwater. And, incredibly, the ship looks just as she did on the November day in 1915 when she vanished into the deep during Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic expedition. Even the Endurance’s ship sign is clearly legible!

The successful find was made on Sunday, 6th March, by eerie coincidence the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s funeral in 1922. It came right at the end of a special two-week search mission that was sponsored by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, just as worsening weather was about to bring the expedition to a close.

Image of the shipwreck of Endurance.
The shipwreck of Endurance, located on a depth of more than 3000 metres in Antarctica. Photo by: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust
Image of the shipwreck of Endurance.
Starboard bow of Endurance. Photo by: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

And, as we explain below, two Saab Sabertooth underwater vehicles had a vital part to play in the triumphant search, with input from two Saab engineers. No wonder Peter Erkers, Sales Director at Saab's business unit Underwater Systems, says, “I’m really excited. This is really fun. The news about the rediscovery of Endurance and Saab’s involvement is spreading really fast!”

Treasure hunting at 3000 meters depth

Join us as we head far down south, all the way to the Antarctic, and learn more on how underwater vehicles work. And how Sabertooth could help out in finding the Endurance. 

Video - 8:31 minutes

An epic feat of endurance and survival

Endurance is a ship with a fabled yet star-crossed history. In late 1914 and early 1915 Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition attempted to achieve the first crossing of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea in the north-west to the Ross Sea in the south, via the South Pole.

However, after managing to make the long voyage from the UK to the edge of the ‘White Continent’, Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition would soon fail. Three of the support team supplying the route from the Ross Sea side died in the extreme conditions, while Endurance itself was gradually trapped by dense pack ice.

Endurance

As Endurance became stuck fast, Shackleton and his 28-strong crew abandoned ship and camped on the ice, watching their vessel be slowly crushed and then sink for good on November 21st, 1915. After that the explorer and his men had no choice but to make a desperate bid for survival. They travelled northwards in Endurance’s rescued lifeboats, crossing hundreds of kilometres over sea ice and the wild open waters of the Southern Ocean, before they reached remote Elephant Island five months later.

From there, Shackleton and two others managed to sail on another 1,000 kilometres to South Georgia, where they then had to cross over harsh mountain terrain to reach a Norwegian whaling station to raise the alarm for their eventual rescue. Shackleton and his crew’s amazing story became known as one of the epic feats of endurance during the early 20th century’s Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

The search for Shackleton’s ship

The Endurance22 expedition’s search for Shackleton’s ship followed an earlier, inconclusive effort in 2019. This latest mission brought together some of the world’s leading marine archaeologists, engineers, technicians, and sea-ice scientists, who sailed to the site on S.A. Agulhas II, one of the largest and most modern polar research vessels ever.

Endurance
Sabertooth on board the S.A. Agulhas II ship to find Endurance. Photo by: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust
Endurance
Sabertooth deployed in the Antarctic Sea. Photo by: Esther Horvath / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Among the vital pieces of equipment on board the Agulhas were two Saab Sabertooth underwater vehicles, one sold and one rented from Saab. Two Saab employees – Software System Engineer Thomas Andréasson and System Engineer Lars Lundberg – were also on board the research vessel, to ensure the Sabertooth system worked properly as the research team collected and evaluated the search data.

Image of Saab's Sabertooth, diving in the Antarctic Sea.
Esther Horvath / Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust


Sabertooth underwater vehicles are more commonly associated with applications for the offshore oil and gas industry, but this time they were heading for cold, dark depths more than 3,000 metres (3km) underwater. The Sabertooth were ideal for the mission due to their ability to reach sites up to 80 kilometres away from the ship where they are launched, and because they could withstand both freezing sea temperatures and great depths to obtain photos, video and survey data. That made it possible for the expedition to survey the site of the wreck, even if bad sea ice and weather were to prevent the expedition ship from reaching the location itself.

Finding Endurance
Endurance
Endurance
Endurance
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Finding Endurance
The expedition
An astonishing find

Renowned polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance has been found underwater off the coast of Antarctica, after 107 years. It’s an incredible rediscovery of one of the world’s great lost shipwrecks.

The ship
In superb condition

The wooden ship was located three kilometres deep in the freezing cold Weddell Sea by a team funded by the Falkland Maritime Heritage Trust. Despite a century underwater she’s still in the same condition as the day she sank after being crushed by pack ice. Even the ship’s name can be clearly seen in the footage of the wreck!

Sabertooth
Saab equipment’s vital role

Two Saab Sabertooth underwater vehicles were used in the search for Endurance, due to their ability to reach sites up to 80 km from the launch ship, and because they could withstand the harshest environment to obtain photos, video and survey data.

The team
Saab duo part of search mission

Two engineers from Saab, Lars Lundberg and Thomas Andréasson, were part of the Endurance22 expedition to find Shackleton’s ship. Lars and Thomas were on board the S.A. Agulhas II research vessel to ensure that the Sabertooth technology worked properly.

The discovery
A piece of maritime history

The location of Endurance made waves in the world’s media, as it solves a century-old maritime mystery. Peter Erkers, Sales Director at Saab, says: “The news about the rediscovery of Endurance and Saab’s involvement is spreading really fast!”

“There are many technical features in the system that make this application possible, such as Sabertooth’s stability, endurance and real-time update capability,” says Peter Erkers.

“There were a number of challenges for the Endurance search, including the cold temperatures and operating from moving ice, but also the extreme depths the team were going to. It’s actually been really great for Saab to see how the system has performed so well under such harsh conditions. We’ve collected some really valuable experiential data so we can take that with us and improve the system.”

But, as Peter Erkers confirms, the greatest excitement of all is this incredible find and Saab being part of an astonishing piece of maritime history: the day when Sir Ernest Shackleton’s long-lost Endurance ship was finally rediscovered, after 107 years.