OTTAWA, Oct 01, 2014 (AFP) - The remains of one of two British exploration ships lost in the Arctic in 1846 was identified on Wednesday by Canada's prime minister as the ill-fated HMS Erebus.
"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," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told parliament.
The search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had involved six major expeditions since 2008 to scour the seabed in the remote and frigid region. Finally last month, a remotely operated underwater vehicle confirmed the discovery.
In their era the Erebus and the Terror were jewels of the Royal Navy. Under the command of Sir John Franklin and Captain Francis Crozier, the two vessels, with a combined crew of 134, left the shores of Britain on May 19, 1845, to discover the Northwest Passage that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The last Europeans to have contact with the ships were crew members of two whaling boats that passed them in Baffin Bay in August 1845. But as the explorers pushed into the Arctic archipelago, they soon ran into problems. And no-one, aside from perhaps the occasional Inuit hunter, ever saw them alive again.
The fate of the Franklin Expedition didn't become clearer until 1859, when a vessel chartered by Franklin's widow Lady Jane came across a sombre message on King William Island. It turns out the sailors became trapped in ice for a year and half, and eventually ran out of supplies.
The message revealed that Franklin and 23 crew members died on June 11, 1847, in unspecified circumstances. On April 22, 1848, 105 survivors left the ships in an attempt to reach solid ground on foot, but none survived.
In the 1980s, Canadian researchers said the remains of expedition members found on Beechey Island indicated they had died of cold, hunger and lead poisoning from canned food. Bones discovered also showed signs of cannibalism.
The two vessels were ultimately engulfed by ice. The wreck was found in Victoria Strait off King William Island, not far from the Inuit village of Cambridge Bay.