Her Majesty’s Ships Erebus and Terror and the Intersection of Legal Norms
This article examines three main bodies of law that apply to the discovery of Her Majesty’s Ships Erebus and Terror. These ships set sail from England in 1845, became trapped in ice in what is now the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and were not re-discovered until 2014 and 2016. Public international law is relevant to the inquiry insofar as this body of law deals with immunity claims with respect to warships and state owned ships and property, and also establishes the rights of the coastal state with respect to the various maritime zones and activities within those zones. The UNESCO Convention of 2001 on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is also relevant when considering the rights and obligations of states with respect to sunken vessels. In addition to the general body of public international law, the article also examines three bilateral agreements between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Canada with respect to the wrecks. These agreements—part treaty, part private law arrangements—form a second specialized body of relevant law. The final part of the paper examines how the status of the vessels is also governed by the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement between Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut, the source of the third body of relevant laws.
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