One cruise ship company has reached an agreement with Parks Canada to take passengers to the wreckage of the Franklin ship HMS Erebus.
If all goes according to plan, guests aboard the Ocean Endeavour, sailed by Mississauga-based Adventure Canada, will board Zodiacs on Sept. 9 and be escorted by Parks Canada staff to the site where the Sir John Franklin ship rests at the bottom of the Queen Maud Gulf.
Parks Canada was in the national media earlier this year over its efforts to keep secret the locations of the Erebus and sister ship HMS Terror. For this cruise ship excursion, none of the passengers will be allowed to carry GPS or electronic devices, to protect the coordinates of the wreckage, and the passengers will be under “strict guidance,” according to Audrey Champagne, a spokesperson for Parks Canada.
Jillian Dickens, who oversees communications for Adventure Canada, said, “This is brand new. This is the first time that a commercial entity or the members of the public will be able to visit the site of the Erebus… so that’s why this is so specifically exciting.”
The “Out of the Northwest Passage” cruise has proven “super, super popular… it’s been really well received,” Dickens added.
The cruise, which is limited to 198 passengers, takes place Sept. 7 to 23. The Adventure Canada website includes this summary of the Erebus visit:
“Here, we will have the chance to interact with their underwater archaeology team – while they are working! A live feed means we will be witnessing new discoveries and receive interpretation as it unfolds.”
Louie Kamookak, a historian from Gjoa Haven who spent many years gathering information about the Erebus and Terror, is one of several Inuit hired by Adventure Canada to share knowledge of local culture and the Franklin expedition. Kamookak is looking at the Zodiac excursion as a useful trial.
“I think from this they (Parks Canada) will learn a lot about how it goes and how they would handle it in the future,” he said, adding that the Zodiac trip is dependent on the weather as high winds could force it to be cancelled.
Kamookak said he’s hopeful increased tourism activity can benefit Gjoa Haven, which is what Mayor Joanni Sallerina told Nunavut News/North a few weeks ago.
There are challenges for artists and crafts-makers, such as not being able to sell some products that utilize fur due to regulations against the importation of fur in some passengers’ home countries, Kamookak noted. He suggested that a study could help determine what types of arts and crafts would be best targeted at various guests.
“I think the community has to be prepared for (an) increase of tourism and it takes time to develop almost like a welcoming party for the tourists,” Kamookak said, referencing the five cruise ships expected to come to Gjoa Haven later this summer.
The Franklin Expedition makes Gjoa Haven a greater attraction. The English-registered ship Erebus, discovered by a search crew led by Parks Canada in 2014, was abandoned after becoming icebound in the Arctic Ocean in 1848. The wreckage of the Erebus is a national historic site and only those with a permit from Parks Canada are entitled to go to its location. Violators face a fine of up to $500,000.
Champagne noted that no visitor experiences are currently planned at the wreck site of the Terror, which was found in 2016.
Champagne added that the Erebus excursion was planned with support from the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee, which comprises representatives from designated Inuit organizations, Northern communities and the Governments of Nunavut and Canada.
The Ocean Endeavour’s itinerary includes stops at Sirmilik and Auyuittuq parks, and it will also be the first cruise ship to bring passengers to Qausuittuq National Park, which was formally established in 2015.