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‘Discovery of the year’ British Steamship discovered beneath Russian Arctic after 137 years

Ian Harvey

A British steamship that sank in 1877 while trying to navigate the Northeast Passage has been discovered beneath the Russian Arctic. The second half of the 19th century saw many enthusiasts trying to traverse the Northeast passage; polar exploration at the time was much like space exploration in the 20th century.

An interesting fact about the discovery is that the Russian Geographical Society which found the ship is chaired by none other than the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Researchers from the RGS discovered the wreck of The Thames lying beneath the shallow waters of the Yenisei river not far from Goroshikha, south of the Arctic circle.

Since its discovery in the early 1850’s the famous Northeast Passage became a challenge for a number of explorers from around the world. However, the route was only successfully navigated by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen during an expedition that spanned three years; from 1903 to 1906. The Thames was one of many ships lost to the treacherous Northeast passage. Photograph: Siberian State Aerospace University

Although plans had been made to try to recover the remains from the sunken ships in the past, the Arctic ice has prevented any such endeavors. Global warming has now caused thinning of the icy layer to a considerable extent and unlike the past, marine shipping in the area has now become a real possibility. The first cruise ship is due to make the journey through Northeast passage starting on August 16.

The Russian duo who found the ship, Alexander Gorchakov, and Nikolay Karelin, are in fact teachers of history at the Siberian State Aerospace University. After a month-long summer catamaran odyssey on the river Yenisei, the two historians made the announcement of the discovery.

Though the exact place where The Thames met its demise were never known, the speculations were that it must have sunken upstream more towards Igarka; however, it was proven wrong by the Russian explorers. A number of local news outlets and international newspapers quickly picked up on the finding and hailed it as the Discovery of the year.

The Thames made the journey not entirely for adventurous reasons; one of the objectives was to establish a safe route that could connect UK mainland to Siberia cutting through the Arctic Ocean.

The 120-tonne vessel was the first ship to enter the waters of the Yenisei which is the largest river falling into the Arctic; The Thames was also one of the very first vessels to attempt to navigate the Northeast passage shipping route.

Three decades before The Thames made its journey through the Arctic, another British explorer Sir John Franklin headed an expedition of two large vessels in order to carve a way through the passage; however, it failed terribly.

A Canadian team of researchers discovered the wrecks of Franklin’s lost expedition in September 2014. Russian experts are still not sure if the shipwreck of the Thames could be raised to the surface as the conditions at the location are not favorable for such an ambitious project.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News