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Mystery Of British Franklin Expedition Ship Lost In Arctic Solved After 170 Years

10/09/2014 10:17 BST | Updated 10/09/2014 11:59 BST

A British exploration ship abandoned on an ill-fated mission to travel through the fabled North West Passage has been discovered after almost 170 years and six extensive searches.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has announced that scientists have found one of two ships lost on the Franklin Expedition in the Arctic Ocean off the far north of the country. Scientists are not yet sure which of the two vessels it is.

The ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were abandoned by Sir John Franklin's scientific expedition in 1846 after becoming trapped in the polar ice.

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HMS Erebus: none of the team crew on the ships survived

None of the more than 100-strong team survived the trek back to civilisation.

Canadian prime minister Harper said the discovery was a historic moment that "solved one of Canada's greatest mysteries".

He said: "Although we do not know yet whether the discovery is Her Majesty's Ship (HMS) Erebus or HMS Terror, we do have enough information to confirm its authenticity."

"This find was confirmed on Sunday, September 7, 2014, using a remotely-operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada.

"This is truly a historic moment for Canada. Franklin's ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada's Arctic sovereignty."

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Nunavut in Canada, where the ship was found

The ship was discovered by the Victoria Strait Expedition in Canada's far northern Nunavut province, Harper said.

He added: "Our Government has been deeply committed to finding HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which were Canada's only undiscovered national historical site.

Since 2008, there have been six major Parks Canada-led searches for the lost Franklin Expedition ships, painstakingly covering many hundreds of square kilometres of the Arctic seabed.

"Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum - or wind in our sails - necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition's crew."

According to the National Maritime Museum website the Franklin Expedition was "the worst disaster in the history of British polar exploration".

Museum curator Gillian Hutchinson said: "It was a huge event in Victorian Society.

"Sir John set off in 1845 to find the North West route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, going across the top of North America.

"They were last seen going into something called Lancaster Sound ... and were never heard from again."

Many expeditions went in search of the lost party, before finally in 1859 a message was found on King William Island.

It revealed that the ship had become trapped in ice in 1846 and the men had lived in their drifting icy prison for a year-and-a-half, during which Sir John had died.

In 1848 105 starving survivors set out on foot for the Great Fish River, but they died en route.

Ms Hutchinson added: "It is wonderful news that they have found one of the ships.

"It seems to be in incredible condition."

She added that examination of the wreck could yield a lot of information about the expedition, because the cold water would help preserve organic material.