08/23/2012 02:49 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT

New project aims to try again to find lost Franklin expedition ships

CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut - The search for the lost ships of the ill-fated Franklin expedition continues.

A new research project was announced Thursday by the prime minister in Nunavut, where the ships are believed to have sunk.

"Why do we search for the Franklin? The wreckage of the Franklin expedition is a national historic site designated some time ago — it is the only undiscovered national historic site, we feel an obligation to discover it," Stephen Harper said.

Sir John Franklin set out from England in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage with two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

But they ended up trapped in ice and Franklin, along with other crew members, died in 1847. The next year, the surviving crew set out on foot but were never seen alive again.

All this is known thanks to a message left in a cairn on King William Island, and while the message suggested where the two ships might have been when they were abandoned, previous attempts to find the wrecks have been unsuccessful.

In 2010, a search team did find the remains of the HMS Investigator, sent in 1850 to find Franklin.

The unknown final resting place of the ships was declared a national historic site in 1992, though the ships will remain the property of the United Kingdom.

The search missions have also helped contribute research into the ocean floors of the Arctic and surrounding marine geography, which the new project will do as well.

The federal government is contributing $275,000 to the new expedition, with other costs being picked up by private partners.

It's expected to last between four to six weeks.

The search areas will include both the O’Reilly Island area, west of the Adelaide Peninsula and further north to Victoria Strait and Alexandra Strait, where the other vessel is believed to be located.

Inuit oral tradition has been key for the searches.

"I think the Inuit know and there's been shared traditional knowledge that's been passed on," said Charlie Evalik, the president of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

"I think the people know that it's happened but it's a difficult search.

Eevalik said the story is taught in schools and young people retain an interest in the story.

Harper met with the crew of the new research expedition in Cambridge Bay on Wednesday.

"I told the crew of the boat yesterday, I'm sure someday they are going to come around the bend and there's going to be the ship and there's going to be the body of Franklin right on the wheel," Harper joked.

"And they are going to find him right there waiting all this time."