US & Canada

Canada to keep Franklin Expedition wrecks

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Media captionBBC's Alpa Patel: "the mission set sail in high spirits and hope but contact was lost two years later"

The United Kingdom is gifting two fabled British explorer shipwrecks to Canada.

HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were found in Canada's northern waters in 2014 and 2016, respectively, having vanished over 160 years before.

The two ships were part of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition to chart the Arctic's Northwest Passage.

UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced the transfer of ownership on Monday.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin set sail with a crew of 129 men from England on an expedition to the Northwest Passage, which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.

The ships became stuck in the ice and none of the crew survived.

Despite many efforts spanning three centuries to find the British-built HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, both ships seemed to have been lost to time and ice.

A team of Canadian divers and archaeologists had been trying to find the ships since 2008.

Traditional Inuit knowledge and new sonar technology eventually enabled searchers to first locate HMS Erebus and then HMS Terror.

The two ships were eventually discovered south of King William Island, near where the ships and their crews had become mired in Arctic ice.

In 1997, the Canada and the UK signed an agreement that gave custody of the wrecks and their contents to Canada, though they officially remained British property.

The British defence secretary said the latest arrangement will ensure the wrecks and their artefacts are conserved.

A small sample of artefacts will remain in the UK.

The official ownership transfer is expected to be undertaken in the coming weeks.

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