Search for lost French naval vessels on hold

July 26, 2011 - via Sudbury Star

SAULT STE. MARIE -- It will be at least another year before a search is mounted for two French naval vessels that mysteriously disappeared crossing Lake Superior more than 90 years ago.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society deployed its research vessel, the David Boyd, on a two-week sonar search for the 630-tonne minesweepers off Michigan's remote Keweenaw Peninsula nine years ago, in 2003, turned up little interest, and wants to organize another expedition. "We are currently fine-tuning a business plan and archeological research design plan we can take to potential partners and sponsors," said Tom Farnquist, former executive director of the Michigan Sault-headquartered Historical Society, and driving force behind the project.

He expects the plans, being pulled together by the Society and the Centre for Maritime and Underwater Resource Management (CMURM) out of lower Michigan, will be presentation-ready within a few months. "We have been doing our homework ... We need to be able to wow our audience with what we are proposing, including the significance of such a search along with the hard numbers," said Farnquist, who became the Society's 'director emeritus' following reorganization earlier this year.

Potential partners of interest include the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, based out of Woods Hole, Mass., and Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

Woods Hole is being targeted for its expertise and access to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The unmanned AUV, says Farnquist, can be programmed to scan 10 square miles of lake bottom before needing to resurface after 70 hours and have its batteries replaced.

Michigan Tech is being considered, he said, because of its recent commitment to areas like underwater archaeology. "We're hoping to search for at least a month, possibly two, and want to be underway next spring or summer," he said.

The Society has also been working with Paul Henry Nargeolet, famed French underwater explorer and co-director of a 3D mapping project of the historic Titanic wreckage site. "He (Nargeolet) has been seeking out clues for where to search for the missing ships at the French naval archives," said Farnquist.

Canadian and American accounts of the tragedy are pretty sparse, there were no survivors or witnesses, so the search for clues was expanded to France. Searching for two small vessels in a big body of water, with little information about where to search, he has previously said, is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The newly built 50-metre vessels, the Inkerman and the Cerisoles, disappeared with all 78 crew, including 76 French sailors and two Canadian navigation pilots, during a fierce November 1918 storm -- no bodies or debris were ever recovered.

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Author:Dan Bellerose

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