The wrecked Franklin expedition ship found last month in the Arctic has been identified as HMS Erebus.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the news Wednesday in the House of Commons.
“I am delighted to confirm that we have identified which ship from the Franklin expedition has been found. It is in fact the HMS Erebus,” Harper said in response to a question from Conservative Yukon MP Ryan Leef.
Harper noted the discovery has been of “interest to Canadians across the country and people around the world.”
Two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were part of Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to Asia.
The ships disappeared after they became locked in ice in 1846 and were missing for more than a century and a half until last month’s discovery by a group of public-private searchers led by Parks Canada. It was not known until now which of the two ships had been found.
Franklin commanded the expedition from the Erebus and is believed to have been on the ship when he died. The wreck of HMS Terror has not yet been found.
Underwater archeologists confirm identity
Parks Canada underwater archeologists have been conducting dives at the site of the wreck since the discovery was made.
In a release, the Prime Minister’s Office said the confirmation of the ship’s identity was made Sept. 30 by those Parks Canada scientists, following a “meticulous review of data and artifacts” from the seabed and using high-resolution photo and video along with sonar measurements.
Ryan Harris, a senior underwater archeologist with Parks Canada and the lead on the project, was the first to venture down to the wreck along with his colleague Jonathan Moore.
“Without a doubt it is the most extraordinary shipwreck I’ve ever had the privilege of diving on,” Harris told CBC News on Parliament Hill Wednesday.
Harris said he was able to drop down between the exposed beams of the wreck and “peer around” some of the interior, including the crew’s mess. The pair could see below decks through old skylights and other openings but did not penetrate the interior of the ship.
“Most of our investigations have been external to this point in time,” he said.
Parks Canada two-man teams conducted seven dives in all for about 12 hours of investigation so far, Harris said.
Where is Franklin?
One question on many observers’ minds is whether Franklin’s body might be found on the wreck. It is not known whether Franklin perished on board or was given some kind of burial at sea before his men abandoned ship.
“We do know that he passed away in June of 1847, but the terse note left by the crew after they deserted the ships in Victoria Strait didn’t say what happened and why he died, but I suppose anything is possible,” Harris said.
“There are all kinds of suggestions that he may have been buried on shore, perhaps buried at sea, or perhaps he is still on the ship somewhere. Hopefully archeological investigations will be able to identify the answer to that question in the years to come.”
The last members of the Franklin expedition are believed to have faced starvation, disease and possibly cannibalism before their deaths in the Arctic.
The government’s partners in the search for Franklin’s ships this summer included Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy, Defence Research and Development Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Space Agency, as well as the governments of Nunavut and Great Britain.