Skip to content
HomeNews from SA Aghulhas II, Antarctica

News from SA Aghulhas II, Antarctica

News received from the South Seas on 11 February 2022


“This is Day 6 of the Endurance22 expedition and SA Aghulhas II is making good progress. We are navigating through the South Seas enroute to search for Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, in the Weddel Sea, Antarctica.
The goal currently is to bypass several low-pressure systems for minimum delays up to the sea level.”


“Researchers from the German space agency, “The Alfred Wegener Institute”, and the German company, “Drift+Noise Polar Services”, are providing high-quality information about the surrounding ice conditions which gives the likely position of the Endurance wreck. This information is what James-John Matthee considers, while using the ship’s historical data, to recommend a favourable route.” writes Prof Bekker in an email to the department. “The whole effort is coming together like a puzzle.”, she says.


Collaborators and funders


Stellenbosch University received 89k Euro of equipment from collaborators RWTH Aachen to measure acoustic emissions on the bearings of the propulsion system of SA Aghulhas II. Brendon Nickerson lecturer and member of our Sound and Vibration Research Group had done the groundwork before, and from his research new possibilities could be explored, namely to measure acoustic emissions which monitor the bearings for weathering. The sensors “listen” to deviations that may indicate damage in the bearings. The measuring on this current expedition is furthered by Ben Steyn and forms part of the MARTERA HealthProp project where Stellenbosch University, together with partners in Norway and Germany aims to create a digital twin of the SA Agulhas II propulsion system to improve insight into its operation and maintenance.

The project work of Stellenbosch University is supported by the Department of Science and Technology (“DST” and the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) of the NRF). The Endurance22 expedition was sponsored by the Falklands Memorial Heritage Trust.


About our Masters students onboard


James-John Matthee is an ‘experienced seafarer’ and First Year Masters student, who does route projections based on satellite photos and ice concentration (like Google Maps for Ice).  He had been on a  Weddell Sea Expedition before as a final year student.


Ben Steyn, our Second Year Masters student oversees the full instrumentation of the ship. His work had already begun in October ’21 when the ship was in the Cape Town dry dock. He focuses on measuring and data models that decrees the ship’s resistance and predicts longevity.


The “Captain”


Annie Bekker, Professor, and Head of Mechanical & Mechatronic Department’s Sound and Vibration Research Group (SVRG) currently leads a project to create a digital SA Aghulhas II. Her  goal is to combine sensor measurements and engineering models with each other to improve operational insight on the ship. Currently, her research group is developing a digital counterpart of the SA Aghulhas II propulsion system with the aim of providing data on the lifespan and behavior of the components of the ship in ice conditions, especially where there are few established engineering analysis available. As captain of the Endurance wreck-hunt Annie has to endure the grueling ice and lead her team to reach their target while constantly deciding whether it is safe to navigate and also establish how long the expedition will be. Her research aims to illustrate with data how to reduce future uncertainties of challenging ice navigation.




“Endurance is the long-lost, three-mast vessel on which Sir Ernest Shackleton, his crew of 27 men and one cat sailed for the Antarctic in the 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The Endurance lies somewhere in the dark and icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean and till recently thought to be unreachable.”


We are confident that our Stellenbosch crew, together with their collaborators, will lead the world to the whereabouts of Endurance soon. We wish them success in this great effort – “Heroism is ENDURANCE for one moment more”


Endurance found

The goosebump news arrived at our department on 9 March informing us that wreck had been located on 5 March 2022 in the dark, ice cold waters of Antarctica at a depth of 3008m on the 100th  anniversary of Sir Shackleton’s funeral.


Says Donald Lamont, Chairman of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust: “This success has been the result of impressive cooperation among many people, both on board the remarkable S.A. Agulhas II with its outstanding Master and crew, a skilled and committed expedition team and many on whose support we have depended..”


We are especially proud of the achievements of this multinational team which includes Prof Annie Bekker, director of our Sound and Vibration Research Group, and our students John-James Matthee and Ben Steyn.