Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that the UK has officially gifted the historic Franklin Wrecks to the Canadian government and Inuit community.
Ownership of the two shipwrecks, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most archaeologically important shipwrecks in the world, was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony held at the Canadian Museum of History.
Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, will also become joint owners of the wrecks and artefacts.
The two ships, under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin, set sail from England in 1845 on an ill-fated voyage through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.
Despite many attempts to locate the wrecks, they proved elusive for over 172 years. In 1997, the UK and Canadian governments signed an agreement giving custody and control of the wrecks and their contents to Canada, while still remaining property of the UK.
Thanks to Inuit knowledge of the area, along with state of the art technology, Erebus was finally located in 2014 and Terror two years later in 2016 in shallow Arctic Waters.
In recognition of this momentous discovery, the British and Canadian governments jointly settled a new agreement. As of 26 April 2018, ownership of the vessels has been formally transferred to the government of Canada, and by extension, the Inuit Heritage Trust.
The gifting is an historic milestone in the long-standing cooperation between the UK and Canada on the issue.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We have deep historic links with Canada and this gift is testament to our prospering relationship.
“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations.”
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