POLITICS

Amundsen's ship Maud could still head to Norway after appeal

03/12/2012 01:51 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Norwegian history buffs are asking again for permission to transport a wrecked ship that once carried legendary northern explorer Roald Amundsen from her cold berth in the Canadian Arctic back to the waters from where she first set sail.

But no matter what happens at Thursday's appeal hearing for an export permit for the Maud, the fabled ship may well be headed back to Norway anyway.

"The review board has no authority to permanently refuse the export of an object," Genevieve Myre, a spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage, said Monday.

"We feel that even in Canada, from what we have read, there is a great majority who also support the fact that we want to try and save this ship for the future," said Jan Wanggaard, a representative of the Norwegian group that wants to move the vessel's remains from just off the coast of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to Vollen, Norway.

The Maud was built in 1917 in Vollen for Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, as well as an explorer who made groundbreaking expeditions in the Canadian Arctic, including the first successful transit of the Northwest Passage.

Amundsen intended to use the specially strengthened Maud to drift across the North Pole, frozen into the sea ice. After two failed attempts, she was sold to the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1925.

Three years later, the ship sunk while moored in shallow water just off Cambridge Bay. Parts of the hull still protrude above the waves more than 80 years later.

Norway, where Amundsen is a national hero, has never forgotten about the Maud. The explorer's two other ships are already in museums and Wanggaard's group wants the Maud in one as well.

Last December, the Canadian government turned the group's members down for an export permit, even though they have legal title to the hulk. A reviewer told the Norwegians they needed to do more study on the Maud's site before disturbing it.

Wanggaard acknowledges the original plan had gaps.

"We decided to apply for an export permit without being 100 per cent complete in making our plans," he said. "It's a very costly thing to plan a project like this. We felt we had to understand whether we would be allowed to bring it out of Canada before we could proceed."

He hopes the appeal panel doesn't require a complete archeological survey of the site. That could take years in Cambridge Bay, which is ice-free for little more than one month a year. Nor would it add much knowledge about a ship that's already been extensively documented, Wanggaard said.

Meanwhile, the sea and ice and weather will keep pounding what's left of the Maud.

"We are very much willing to do what is necessary, providing it is practically possible," Wanggaard said.

The plan has wide support in Norway — from the nation's king to its national museum to the private company footing the bill.

Residents of Cambridge Bay, who first fought to hold on to the Maud, are now prepared to let her go after a visit last summer from the Norwegians.

"I think people have changed their minds," said Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak. "It isn't rightfully ours."

Even if Wanggaard loses his appeal, Canadian law means he may just have to wait a little longer to repatriate the 40-metre wreck. Legislation says that if the appeal is denied, Canadian groups will be given a period of between two and six months to come up with a proposal of their own.

"If an export delay period has been imposed and an institution or public authority does not purchase the object, once an export delay period has expired the review board must direct that the permit be issued if the applicant so requests," Myre said.

If no plan emerges during that time, the Norwegians would be granted the Maud's export permit by default.

"We want to try to save this ship for the future," Wanggaard said.

"It's been laying in Canada now for 80 years. We are the only ones who have an initiative that is realistic."

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton