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The federal government has refused to allow a group of Norwegians to remove the wreckage of the Maud out of the arctic harbour where it sank more than 80 years ago.Dag Leslie Hansen

The federal government has refused to allow a group of Norwegians to take a ship built for famed polar explorer Roald Amundsen out of the Arctic harbour where it sank more than 80 years ago.

An expert appointed by Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore has determined that the Maud is an object of outstanding significance and national importance and must remain in waters off the Nunavut hamlet of Cambridge Bay. The starboard of the vessel can still be seen from shore, and local residents hope to turn it into a tourist attraction.

But the Norwegians have similar designs. The community of Asker, just west of Oslo, bought the Maud in 1990 hoping to bring it to Norway to become the centrepiece of a new museum.

So Jan Wanggaard, the project manager for Maud Returns Home, was disappointed by the Canadian decision.

The Norwegians have appealed the decision, and are confident that the Canadian government will eventually rule in their favour, Mr. Wanggaard said. There have been communications problems and connecting with Canadian authorities has been an issue, he said.

In the meantime, the Arctic sea and ice is chewing away at what remains of the Maud, the Norwegian said.

"What is important now is to save the ship – rather than just observe it," he said. "Important time is now being lost. We will lose a ship – and we lose major evidence of our cultural history. This was the only ship Norwegian Polar explorer Roald Amundsen had built for himself and has an important position in the world polar history and of course for Norway."

A spokesman for the Canadian Heritage department said a board will review the recommendation of the expert examiner and could direct that a permit be issued to the Norwegians without further delay.

However, if the board agrees with the expert that the Maud is a nationally important object, it could delay the export of the ship for up to six months to allow time for a Canadian group or institution to buy it, possibly with financial assistance from the federal government. If no offers to purchase are forthcoming, the Norwegians can have the vessel.

Mr. Wanggaard and his colleague Dag Leslie Hansen spent part of this past summer assessing the ship in Cambridge Bay. They had hoped to return next summer with a tug boat and a submersible barge to take the Maud back to Norway.

But many residents of Cambridge Bay say they don't want to lose it. Mayor Syd Glawson has suggested that the Norwegians build a replica of the Maud that could travel between Norway and his community giving people a chance to experience what it was like to sail on the Maud as well as to see the original wreckage.

The Norwegians have not expressed much interest in that idea.

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