Permits approved for Le Griffon shipwreck expedition

In 2001, the Great Lakes Exploration Group found what it believes to be the Griffon's wreckage underwater in northern Lake Michigan.

Permits have been approved for the Great Lakes Exploration Group to perform underwater test excavations to identify the shipwreck that is believed to be the Le Griffon.

Le Griffon, which was built by Robert de Le Salle, is considered to be the first decked sailing ship on the upper Great Lakes. It vanished in 1679.

In 2001, the Great Lakes Exploration Group found what it believes to be the Griffon's wreckage underwater in northern Lake Michigan. The exact location of the wreck has not been disclosed.

The exploration will end a nearly decade long fight between the state of Michigan and the government of France over the ownership of the ship. The state claims federal law gives Michigan ownership of vessels embedded in the Great Lakes bottomlands if they are abandoned. French officials disagreed and filed a claim in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.

"Le Griffon has tremendous historical and cultural significance for the entire region, and I'm delighted we may finally get an answer as to whether we have, in fact, found the 'Holy Grail' of Great Lakes shipwrecks," said Rep. Greg MacMaster, who has been instrumental in helping the group get approval for the expedition. "It has been a lengthy process to be sure, but it was important to get everyone on board with this expedition, including the governments of Michigan and France."

The permit, issued the the Department of Natural Resources, will allow the team to conduct three small text excavations into the bottomlands.

Several Michigan lawmakers, including Rep. MacMaster and Gov. Rick Snyder, signed a special tribute that publicly supported GLX's intention to identify the shipwreck.

"I was excited to see the governor take an active role on asserting Michigan's right to its bottomlands and seeing this project through," MacMaster said. "If this vessel does turn out to be the fabled Le Griffon, it could be an incredible tool for education, help increase tourism and add to the 'Pure Michigan' experience."

The expedition is expected to take place in mid-June and will involve help from French experts including world-renowned underwater archaeologist Michel L'Hour. This marks the first official visit to the shipwreck site by the French team.

"It's exciting to collaborate with colleagues across the ocean," said Ken Vrana, project manager. "It sets a foundation for further exploration of our underwater French heritage here in Michigan."

Vrana said whether the site proves to be the fabled ship or not, it is important to advance the practice of underwater archeology in Michigan.