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Canadians fight proposal to move famed Arctic exploration ship Maud

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

A group of citizens in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is fighting to keep the wreck of the Maud, a ship that once belonged to famed polar explorer Roald Amundsen, from being lifted out of Canadian waters and taken to Norway.

The Maud, also known as the Baymaud, has been sitting partially submerged in the shallow waters near Cambridge Bay, a remote community of about 1,500, for the past eight decades.

About 20 residents have recently joined the Keep the Baymaud Committee to fight a Norwegian's group's efforts to take the shipwreck back to Amundsen's home country, where the explorer is a national legend.

Committee chair Vicki Aitaok said losing the Maud would be a huge loss for Cambridge Bay, since the wreck is a major tourist attraction there.

"We take 300 people or more every year there," Aitaok told CBC News on Thursday.

Tried to reach North Pole

Amundsen, who in the early 1900s led the first successful sailing expedition through the Northwest Passage, had sailed the Maud to the Arctic in the hopes of reaching the North Pole.

But Amundsen's attempts were unsuccessful and the Maud was seized and eventually sold to the Hudson's Bay Company. Renamed the Baymaud, the ship was used as a floating trading post before it sank around 1930.

Maud Returns Home, a Norwegian group that is backed by a development company, says it wants to salvage the wreck and move it back to the town in Norway where Amundsen had the Maud built a century ago.

The Norwegian group wants to build a museum around the shipwreck, in part to preserve it from the elements.

"We really think that the Maud deserves a better destiny than to stay forever, falling gradually more and more apart," Jan Wanggaard, a project manager with Maud Returns Home, told CBC News earlier this week.

Historic site status sought

Aitaok said people in Cambridge Bay have been trying for years to have the Maud declared as a national historic site in Canada.

But in order to do that, they must get ownership of the vessel from people in Asker, Norway, who bought the wreck from the Hudson's Bay Company for $1 in 1990.

"We have been trying to get it recognized and preserved and protected, and it's the ownership issue that's held us back," she said.

"We wanted it to become a national historic site but ... our application would not be accepted unless we had approval from the owners, and so we needed to be the owners. So it's sort of a Catch-22."

Because the wreck of the Maud is owned by the Norwegians, it is currently not protected by laws in Nunavut, said Doug Stenton, the territorial government's director of heritage.

"Our regulations do not apply to private property," Stenton said.

Arctic's cultural heritage

At the same time, Stenton said he does not want the Maud to be moved out of Canada, adding that his department "supports Cambridge Bay's position on the wreck."

Kenn Harper, a businessman, historian and writer based in Iqaluit, said the Canadian government should do more to protect the Arctic's rich cultural heritage.

"The government of Canada, if it has the interest in the North that it claims it does, might well take an interest in some of these things in the way Norway has," he said.

In the case of the Maud, the Canadian government may have a trump card: it would have to issue a cultural export permit before anyone could move the wreck out of Canadian waters.

A group of Norwegians had obtained a permit to move the Maud in 1993, but it did not take action because of costs. The permit has since expired.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.