During the first week of February 2019 the S.A. Agulhas II, which is currently chartered for the Weddell Sea Expedition, made a stop at King George Island. This island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. This stopover was necessitated by the need for extra mechanical and electronic parts for the ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) team involved in the search for the Endurance wreck after an implosion of the electronics housing during a test dive. The parts were to be flown in from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the airstrip on King George Island.
The stopover provided an opportunity for the expedition members to stretch their legs on land—a unique opportunity for the South African contingent who never get to visit these parts on the usual SANAE relief voyages. The island hosts a large number of research bases operated by Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as China, Russia, South Korea and Poland. A tour of Base Prof. Julio Escudero was arranged with the Chileans where all the scientific and recreational station facilities were displayed. The team was also invited in for tea at the Russian Bellingshausen station while waiting for the zodiacs to return the expedition team to the S.A. Agulhas II. The favours were then returned to the Chilean and Russian teams and they were invited aboard the S.A. Agulhas II and toured through the vessel. A joint Chilean-Argentinian naval patrol’s officers were also invited aboard and treated to some finger snacks with the S.A. Agulhas II’s officers in one of the vessel’s lounges.
King George Island also holds the Antarctic Treaty Monument which commemorates the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty and displays a plaque commemorating South Africa’s involvement as one of the original signatories. The monument is listed and protected as an Antarctic Historic Site or Monument.
Unfortunately, weather conditions prevented the designated plane with supplies from landing while the expedition was waiting at King George Island. The aircraft took off three separate times and had to turn around each time. The expedition couldn’t afford to lose more time and had to leave for the Endurance wreck site without the spares.
The team S.A. Agulhas II reached the wreck site on 10 February 2019 (read more here). The fact that the ROV will not be used for any further exploration did not stop the team, as they built a new frame fixed with lights and a camera which can be ‘trawled’ above the seafloor.
Written by: Hermann Luyt, Oceanography, University of Cape Town, 14 February 2019
Photo Credit (all): Hermann Luyt