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polar explorer

The wreckage of Roald Amundsen's ship Maud is shown in June 1998, in Cambrige Bay, Victoria Island. Norwegian history buffs are trying one more time to lift a ship that once carried legendary northern explorer Roald Amundsen from her cold berth in the Canadian Arctic.They want to bring the fabled ship Maud back to the waters of Norway from where she first set sail.Ansgar Walk/The Canadian Press

A Norwegian man is in Canada this week to plead for permission to take a 95-year-old ship built for his countryman, the famed explorer Roald Amundsen, back to Norway where it would become the centrepiece of a new museum.

Jan Wanggaard, manager of the effort to return the Maud to her Norwegian birthplace, is preparing for his appearance Thursday before the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

"It's very hard to understand or believe that we will not end up getting the possibility to bring the Maud home," Mr. Wanggaard said in an interview Monday. "When you look at it in a practical way, everybody agrees that this is the right thing to do."

The Maud was designed by Mr. Amundsen for a voyage to the North Pole. He was unsuccessful in reaching the top of the world, but the ship still completed a famous crossing of the Northwest Passage and her crew made a host of important scientific discoveries.

The explorer, who was the first man to reach the South Pole, went bankrupt in 1925 and was forced to sell the Maud to the Hudson's Bay Company, which used the ship as a floating warehouse. The winter ice took its toll and she sank in 1930 in the harbour of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Only a small area of the ship's starboard side was left visible above the waves.

Sixty years later, the Norwegian community of Asker, a suburb of Oslo, bought the ship for $1 with the intent of raising her and returning her to the port where she was built.

Some Cambridge Bay residents opposed the move and signed a petition declaring the wreck to be a Canadian archeological site that should not be moved.

An expert appointed by Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore determined in December that the Maud is a nationally important object and that its export to Norway should be delayed for up to six months to allow time for a Canadian group or institution to buy her. If no offers to purchase are forthcoming, the Norwegians can have the vessel.

But the review board could overturn that decision and give the Norwegians the immediate go-ahead to reclaim the vessel. That would mean they could start right away to build the barge that would be used to carry the ship back across the Atlantic.

Unless the Maud is raised, she is expected to deteriorate within a few years.

The Norwegians, Mr. Wanggaard said, have the technical expertise required for the project and also the moral right to claim her. "We actually have a very strong link to the ship, and we actually own it," he said.

The museum project has widespread support in Norway, Mr. Wanggaard said. Norwegian King Harald is behind returning the Maud, he said, because he has an interest in maritime matters, because his grandfather was a friend of Mr. Amundsen, and because the ship was named after his grandmother Queen Maud.

"We have a very long tradition of shipbuilding in Norway – 2,000 years," Mr. Wanggaard said. "It's extremely challenging to sail and to be on a boat on the Norwegian coast because of the strong winds and the difficult conditions so we were very clever, we developed incredible skill in this and the Maud is part of this cultural history."

Mr. Wanggaard, who has spent some time in Cambridge Bay examining the wreck, said he understands why some of the people in that community are loath to see it go. "When you have a shipwreck outside your home for generations, of course you get some kind of relationship with it," he said.

But if the board cannot see a realistic possibility of some other Canadian group with the money and the expertise to preserve the ship, he said, "then they should give it to us."