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Empress of Ireland: First scientific study of wreck underway

Parks Canada divers explored the wreck of the Empress of Ireland Thursday in the first scientific expedition since the 1914 sinking of the Liverpool-bound passenger liner in the St. Lawrence River off Pointe-au-Père, Quebec.

Parks Canada study marks the first scientific exploration of 1914 wreck that claimed more than 1,000 lives

On May 29, 1914 The Canadian Pacific steamship, the Empress of Ireland, collided with a Norwegian freighter near Quebec City, sinking in 14 minutes and killing 1,012 people. (The Canadian Press)

The first scientific expedition to explore the wreck of the Empress of Ireland since the 1914 sinking of the Liverpool-bound passenger liner got underway Thursday in the St. Lawrence River

Only 465 of the ship’s 1,477 passengers and crew survived after a Norwegian ship carrying coal struck the Empress of Ireland off Rimouski,Que., and ripped open the hull.

The Canadian Pacific Railway-owned ship, now known as "Canada's Titanic," sank in only 14 minutes and still rests 45 metres below the surface.

The CPR dispatched divers soon after the disaster to salvage $150,000 in silver bullion that sank with the ship. Following that salvage mission, the exact location of the ship was lost until it was rediscovered in 1964.

The wreck has been visited by countless recreational divers and treasure hunters, but the Parks Canada expedition is the first to thoroughly study the wreck.

Expedition leader Charles Dagneau said the expedition hopes to resolve long-standing concerns about the ship’s rudder, which was suspected of not functioning correctly at the time of the accident.

Dagneau said no records of the rudder’s design exist.

"One thing in particular that we’re looking at is the rudder of the ship that was changed throughout the life of the Empress of Ireland. That's something that's not well-documented, by history, there's no plans, there's no drawing. So we're going to see how it's built,” he said.

The expedition will last until the end of July.