Canada seeks traces of doomed Arctic expedition

Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:16pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Appealing to national sovereignty and the spirit of exploration, Canada launched a search on Friday for the ships of the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition that was seeking the fabled Northwest Passage.

The British ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were trapped in the Arctic ice as Sir John Franklin sought to chart a northern route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to reach the Far East.

He and his 128 crew died and rescue expeditions never found his ships.

"Canada will now embark on its own journey ... (on) the search for these two vessels, which has the allure of an Indiana Jones mystery," Environment Minister John Baird told a news conference.

Using oral history from the native Inuit to provide clues where to look, a team will fly out on Saturday to join a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker that will use sonar equipment to search an area south of King William Island in Nunavut.

Though the ships have not been detected, traces of 70 crew members -- many of whom started trekking overland in desperation -- have been found. Research has suggested they suffered from lead poisoning from canned food, and Inuit stories tell of cannibalism among the doomed crew.

The expedition inspired Dan Simmons' historical novel "The Terror" last year and a series of earlier books.

Beyond the historical interest, Baird said it was important for Canada's drive to assert its sovereignty over the Arctic regions in a variety of ways -- historically, environmentally, militarily and in terms of resource use.   Continued...