Explorer Ernest Shackleton’s last ship found off Labrador’s south coast, says expedition

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society says it has found polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s final ship, the Quest, 390 metres off Labrador’s south coast. (Royal Canadian Geographical Society/X)

The last vessel helmed by famed Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton — lost for more than 60 years — has been discovered on the ocean floor, less than half a kilometre off Labrador’s south coast, says the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. 

The announcement was made Wednesday morning at the Marine Institute in St. John’s at 10:30 a.m. NT.

“Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” said expedition leader John Geiger, the society’s CEO, in a statement.

“Shackleton was known for his courage and brilliance as a leader in crisis. The tragic irony is that his was the only death to take place on any of the ships under his direct command.”

Using sonar operated by Marine Institute staff, the international team say they found the Quest 390 metres off the coast, near Battle Harbour, five days into its expedition, which left June 5.

Man standing on a boat, photo in black and white
Shackleton died at the age of 47 aboard the Quest in 1922 near island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. (Getty Images)

Shackleton died of a heart attack aboard the Quest in 1922, at the age of 47, near the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic during a voyage to Antarctica.

The Quest, a schooner-rigged steamship, remained in service for decades, including as a minesweeper in World War Two and as a sealing vessel. In 1962 it struck ice and sank off Labrador’s coast.

Search director David Mearns said they used a number of methods to help determine the area where the Quest could have come to rest, including using historic logs and maps, and cross-referencing historical data with modern technology.

Mearns said he’s certain the vessel the team found, which is intact, is the Quest.

“Data from high-resolution side-scan sonar imagery corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship. It is also consistent with events at the time of the sinking,” he said.

Image of a map
Expedition leader John Geiger, the society’s CEO, says the Quest was found in the Labrador Sea, near where it was reported to have sun in 1962. (Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

Shackelton’s granddaughter Alexandra Shackleton was a patron of the expedition to find the Quest. 

“It is perhaps fitting that the ship should have ended its storied service in Canadian waters. I have long hoped for this day and am grateful to those who made this incredible discovery,” she said in the statement.

Traditional Chief Mi’sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation, another expedition patron, said he was happy the vessel had been found, noting it had sunk in waters off Mi’kmaw, Innu and Inuit territories.

“I was happy to share local knowledge with the captain and crew of the search vessel ahead of time to find Quest and honoured that Miawpukek Horizon Marine assisted in planning the expedition.”

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