Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not looking for Franklin's ships this year

(click here for the full article)

According to several stories which have appeared on the CBC's website, Rob Rondeau is not looking for Franklin this year:

One of the leaders of a private search for Sir John Franklin's lost ships in the Northwest Passage denies he was planning to look for the vessels this year. The Nunavut government threatened Rob Rondeau of ProCom Diving Services and his team with criminal charges if they searched for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror without an archeological permit.

Rondeau received a letter to that effect from the territorial Justice Department last week while he was in the hamlet of Taloyoak. Nunavut government archeologist Julie Ross said Rondeau's team was trying to launch a search for the ships — which have been missing in the High Arctic passage for more than 160 years — even though the group had been denied a territorial archeological permit this year ...

It's difficult, at this point, to say how much of this story reflects the Government's own desire to keep its mission pre-eminent, or how much is due to political resistance on the part of Nunavut authorities. Since the establishment of Nunavut, many researchers say it's been more difficult to get archaeological and other permits; while the requirement that local Inuit communities be consulted is certainly understandable, it can add costs and delays. I've talked with Dave Woodman about this, and he's certainly had a few frustrating experiences with "officialdom" up there. That said, it certainly would be most unfortunate if Rondeau's team had indeed -- as some reports suggest -- attempted to skirt the proper processes in order to do a quick, unpermitted search.


  1. I would be a little surprised if this was political interference in favour of the Parks Canada search expedition. Parks Canada is run by the federal government and archeological permits are issued by the Nunavut Territory. Although a territory, its government is elected, is typically separate from and does not take direction from the federal government on such matters. The Parks Canada expedition was not theirs and I'm not sure that they would be so invested in that expedition that they would hold up archeological permits.

    They are, however, quite starved for cash and the bureaucracy is quite inefficient.

    While, I would not put anything past this particular federal government which is very controlling at a microscopic level and not afraid to exert heavy pressure for optics, I don't think this would get onto their radar screen.

  2. Ted, agreed on all points. I hadn't meant to suggest that Parks Canada's team was in some way trying to stop Rondeau's, only that, being already inside the federal government, already permitted, by Nunavut, and having Louie Kamookak readily on hand to speak to reporters, they certainly benefitted from this news -- it make Rondeau look bad, and them look good. All the facts aren't out yet, it appears, but it saddens me to see red tape and communications problems scuttle a search which might have had some chance of success.

  3. Agreed.

    I began to wonder if something was up though with no updates on the Facebook page or in the news. So thanks for the link.

    What a disappointing summer for expeditions in the end. When there was such high hopes with two significant ones planned, we end up with no searches at all.

  4. I would like to know why Rondeau was denied a permit. There seems to be little sense in requiring someone to obtain a permit in order to scan the sea floor. This type of search involves no excavation or even close approach to the site.

    Quite a bit was found on KWI in the 1990s by land based searches following a "look but don't touch" policy.

    Preventing the discovery of the ships is not going to help preserve information just as preventing proper archaeological work on the remains found on the Todd Islets will not help preserve or protect anything.

    Hopefully the details will be in properly in place before next season.

  5. The reason given for denying the permit was lack of experience doing underwater archaeological work in Arctic waters, along with failure to consult with local Inuit communities.

    I think that Rondeau is a very experienced diver and underwater searcher -- and in any case this was not a dive, but a search using a ROV (a remote-operated vehicle like those that Bob Ballard used to probe the TItanic) and the whole thing was to be "no touch" (actually disturbing the site and retrieving things, which would have required a separate and quite different permit, was never part of the plan).

    So to me, the denial of a permit seems somewhat capricious. He could apply again -- I think he may -- and this time, I think he should find a credentialed archaeologist to work with him, and be sure that they visit local communities, such as Gjoa Haven, to explain their work and hear what people have to say. If he does that, he certainly ought to get a permit!