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Lost Ship Discovered In Arctic Waters

July 29, 2010

Canadian archeologists have found the wreckage of the ship that has been credited with discovering the Northwest Passage.

Marc-Andre Bernier of Parks Canada said on Wednesday that the archeologists snapped sonar images of HMS investigator not long after they arrived at the remote Mercy Bay site in the Northwest Territories.

The HMS Investigator was the British ship that set out to search for two lost vessels and were part of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 Royal Navy expedition to discover the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic to the Pacific through Canada’s Arctic archipelago.

“This is definitely of the utmost importance,” Bernier, chief of the underwater archeology service with Parks Canada, the federal body conducting the Arctic survey, told Reuters.

“This was the ship that confirmed and nailed the discovery of that passage.”

He said that one of the archeologists compared the discovery to finding one of Columbus’ ships.

The icy waters helped to preserve the ship, which sits upright in about 36 feet of water not far from the location it was last documented at being in 1854.

The wreck had been difficult to find because of its remote location off Bank’s Island and because the waters are generally very icy.  The team had an ice-free area to work in this year.

“It’s in surprisingly good condition,” said Bernier. “The reason we were so lucky in a way was because the ship had not moved too much from the place it was abandoned.”

Archeologists plan to take more images of the ship from a small inflatable boat they are working with.  The team hopes to use a robot equipped with cameras to learn more about the ship.

The graves of three Royal Navy sailors were also discovered.  Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice told Reuters that the British government has been notified of the discovery.

The HMS Investigator was deployed in 1850 with a 66-man crew, but was eventually abandoned after becoming stuck in the Arctic ice for two winters.  The crew, led by Captain Robert John LeMesurier McClure, left a cache of equipment behind, along with provisions on the shore of what is now part of Aulavik National Park.

Prentice told Reuters that the discovery of the ship and the artifacts on shore formed an “incredibly rich treasure trove.”

“This really knits together the history of that really early exploration — this history of the Inuit people … who have been here thousands of years, and our modern attempts here in Canada,” said Prentice.

Image Caption: HMS Enterprise (left) and HMS Investigator (right).

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