10/01/2014 02:46 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

Harper Says Franklin Ship Canada Found Is HMS Erebus

OTTAWA - The historic shipwreck found in the Arctic has been identified as HMS Erebus, the vessel on which Sir John Franklin himself sailed — and may even have perished — in search of the Northwest Passage in 1845.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who took obvious delight last month in delivering news of the discovery of the ship from Franklin's doomed voyage, revealed Wednesday just which of the two it is.

"I'm delighted to confirm that we have identified which ship from the Franklin expedition has been found," Harper told the House of Commons.

"It is, in fact, the HMS Erebus."

The discovery of the wreck, found some 11 metres below the surface in the Queen Maud Gulf, was confirmed Sept. 7, but was not identified until now.

The Prime Minister's Office said Parks Canada underwater archeologists confirmed the find with a "meticulous review of data and artifacts" on the ocean floor using high-resolution photos and video and multi-beam sonar measurements.

The two ships of the Franklin expedition and their crews, 129 members in all, disappeared during an 1845 quest for the Northwest Passage. So far, the location of the other ship, HMS Terror, remains a mystery.

Since 2008, Parks Canada has led six major searches for the lost ships, which long ago captured the Victorian imagination and gave rise to many searches throughout the 19th century for Franklin and his crew.

The mystery of exactly what happened to Franklin and his men has never been solved.

One of the early Franklin search parties discovered a note left in a cairn at Victory Point on King William Island that recounted how both ships got trapped in the ice in late 1846 and that Franklin died on June 11, 1847.

There's some debate over whether Franklin's final resting place is on King William Island or the ship. Harper himself recently seemed to suggest he believes it's the latter.

"One day we're just going to come around the bend and there's going to be the ship and Franklin's skeleton slumped over the helm and we're going to find it," he said during his most recent northern tour.

Four vessels — the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, HMCS Kingston and vessels from the Arctic Research Foundation and B.C.-based One Ocean Expeditions — led the search this summer.

The One Ocean ship was in fact a Russian-flagged vessel known as the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

A sonar image released when the discovery was announced showed the shipwreck appears to be well-preserved. It was found resting five metres off the sea floor in the bow and four metres in the stern.

The image showed some of the deck structures were still intact, including the main mast, which was sheared off by the ice when the ship sank.

Parks Canada didn't immediately respond to a request for more details about the identification of the Franklin shipwreck.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version mistakenly said the government's survey team worked from the One Ocean ship.

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