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Saturday 22 July 2017

Ship discovered after 155 years in icy grave

Ciaran Byrne

IT is one of the most amazing stories of Arctic history, a tale of incredible determination and suffering aboard a ship captained by a fearless Irish adventurer.

Now, 155 years after she was abandoned by Wexford captain Robert McClure while discovering the Arctic's North-West passage, the almost complete wreck of the 'HMS Investigator' has been found.

The discovery on July 25 by a team of Canadian marine archeologists led one to declare: "In anthropological terms, this is the most important shipwreck in history."

Ryan Harris, who revealed the wreck was discovered during a sonar scan of the water, added: "It's a bit like finding a Columbus ship in the Arctic."

McClure, from Main Street in Wexford town, joined the English Navy aged 17.

He was the skipper who in 1854 ordered the 69-member crew to abandon ship as the 'HMS Investigator' became entangled in pack ice.

The ship had been on a mission from England to find two other doomed vessels -- those of John Franklin's Arctic expedition.

Franklin's ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic and the entire crew, including Franklin and 128 men, was lost.

Fabled

'HMS Investigator' sailed in 1850, entering the Arctic from the western side in hopes of finding Franklin's two ships emerging from the fabled passage.

The wreck of the ship was detected in shallow water within days of the launch of an ambitious search for the 422-tonne ship from an encampment on the Beaufort Sea shoreline by archeologists from Parks Canada -- the government agency which protects Canadian natural and cultural heritage.

They also discovered the graves of three British sailors but Canadian officials said yesterday the ship may never be raised.

Artefacts from the vessel, however, may go on show.

"It's sitting upright in silt; the three masts have been removed, probably by ice," said Ifan Thomas, Parks Canada's superintendent of the western Arctic Field Unit.

"It's a largely intact ship in very cold water, so deterioration didn't happen very quickly," Mr Thomas added.

Irish Independent

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