Franklin Expedition search called off

A planned search for Sir John Franklin's missing ships in the high Arctic appears to have been scrubbed this summer because an icebreaker is not available.

A government-sponsored search for Sir John Franklin's missing ships in the High Arctic has been scrubbed this summer, but private entrepreneurs hope to score an archeological coup by conducting their own search in late August.

Ottawa announced last August it was mounting an effort to find Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and Terror, which went missing more than 160 years ago.

Some graves of the crew members have been discovered over the years and relics have been uncovered.

But the search for the missing ships has become a potential prize — made even bigger when then Federal Environment Minister John Baird announced Ottawa was backing a search and that experts would be relying on Inuit knowledge to aid the search.

On Thursday, Parks Canada's senior marine archeologist, Ryan Harris, confirmed the official search for the Franklin ships has been called off for this summer.

Harris said Parks Canada had asked the navy for ship time but there won't be a Canadian Forces ship in the vicinity and the search team was unable to get time aboard one of the Canadian Coast Guard's icebreakers.

"Unfortunately this particular season, Coast Guard had other scientific programs that they had to prioritize. But we intend to continue with the survey next year. The Coast Guard remains a very important partner for us in this three-year project."

Gjoa Haven historian Louis Kamookak, who is part of Parks Canada's Franklin team, says it was a three-year project and is disappointed that it is on hold this year.

"Briefly I talked with the guy from Parks [Canada] and what I'm hearing is that this summer the icebreaker has some other commitments."

Nine years ago, Kamookak approached the crew of the the RCMP ship St. Roch II. He invited the skipper, RCMP Sgt. Ken Burton, to see some remains from the Franklin Expedition on the shores of one of the Todd Islands.

Locating ships would be big news

Unlike other remains found over the years, the Todd Islands graves were located quite far south from where Franklin's two ships were believed to have been stuck in the ice.

Other sites showed signs of cannibalism, and that the 128 members of Franklin's crew died of disease and lead poisoning soon after they abandoned their ships.

The Inuit say they have known about this site since the 19th century, but Kamookak thinks others could well find Franklin's ships first.

For example, Rob Rondeau, a marine archeologist with Alberta-based ProCom Diving Services, has teamed up with a British archeologist to conduct their own search for Erebus and Terror in late August.

"We're quite confident based on the research that we've done that we have a pretty good idea of where the remains of the two ships are," said Rondeau. "We'll actually be using some state-of-the-art sonar equipment."

Rondeau said Britain remains fascinated with the Franklin story and locating the ships would be big news in the United Kingdom and in Nunavut.