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Burial At Sea

By: Dawn of Michigan Ghosts

Burial at sea seems to be a procedure we don’t hear of as often as we used to. It is still done, of course, but with travel circumstances being so much better then they were 100 years ago, people are a lot less likely to die at sea, and if they do, disposal methods are more up to date, too.

It is regularly performed by navies, but also can be done by private citizens in many countries. Burial at sea services are available at many different locations and with many different customs, either by ship or by aircraft. Usually, either the captain (or commanding officer) of the ship or aircraft or a representative of the religion performs the ceremony. Legally, a captain can bury remains at sea, provided that environmental regulations are satisfied. In the United States, ashes have to be scattered at least 3 nautical miles (3.5 mi; 5.6 km) from shore, and bodies can be given to the sea if the location is at least 600 feet (180 m) deep. Special regulations may also apply to the urns and coffins.

The ceremony may include burial in a casket, burial sewn in sailcloth, burial in an urn, or scattering of the cremated remains by ship. Burial at sea by aircraft is usually done only with cremated remains. Other types of burial at sea include the mixing of the ashes with concrete and dropping the concrete block to form an artificial reef such as the Atlantis Reef. Below is a list of religions in alphabetical order that allow burial at sea, with some details of the burial. However, there are always many different beliefs even within the same religion, and views may differ according to those beliefs. Because of the particular logistics of scattering ashes at sea, there are commercial services that do so for a fee.

There are very few traditional Buddhist burials at sea. Traditionally, the deceased are cremated and the ashes are placed in a grave or columbarium. Particularly in East Asian or Mahayana Buddhism, a physical gravesite is considered important for the conduct of memorial and ancestor rites. The Buddhist Churches of America, the North American branch of Japanese Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, has created a service for Buddhist burials at sea, primarily for military service members.

Officially, the Roman Catholic Church prefers normal casket burials over cremations, but does allow for cremation subject to the condition that the ashes are entombed or buried. The Church is against the scattering of cremated remains on the ground, in the air, or at sea; the Church is also against forgoing proper disposal and keeping the ashes in private possession, such as for display on a mantel. Burial at sea in a casket or in an urn is approved for cases where the deceased expired in the sea.

The Anglican Communion has detailed procedures for burial at sea. The ship has to be stopped, and the body has to be sewn in sailcloth, together with two cannon balls for weight. Anglican (and other) chaplains of the Royal Navy bury cremated remains of ex-Naval personnel at sea. Scattering of cremated remains is discouraged, not least for practical reasons. Many Lutheran naval veterans and seamen prefer to be buried at sea. In those cases either the casket or urn is set to sea, or ashes scattered. The procedure is similar as that with Anglican. Some parishes have specific consecrated sea areas, where ashes can be sprinkled.

Traditionally, the deceased are cremated, the bones and ashes are collected, and the ashes/remains are immersed in the Ganges River if possible or in any other river if not.

The sacred texts of Islam prefer burial on land, “so deep that its smell does not come out and the beasts of prey do not dig it out”. However, if a person dies at sea and it is not possible to bring the body back to land before decay, burial at sea is allowed. A weight is tied to the feet of the body, and the body is lowered into the water. This would preferably occur in an area where the remains are not immediately eaten by scavengers. Also, if an enemy may dig up the grave to mutilate the body, it is also allowed to bury the deceased at sea to avoid mutilation.

Traditional Orthodox Judaism has always prohibited burial at sea.{Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 375:7} Reform Judaism, on the other hand, allows burial at sea after consultation with a rabbi. Reform Judaism has a strong preference for burial on land, however, where families have a gravesite to visit.

United States
A funeral director is not required for the burial of cremated remains at sea; however full body burials require specific preparation to ensure that the body or coffin sinks quickly. California is the only U.S. State that does not permit full body burials. The Environmental Protection Agency regulations for full body burials at sea in the United States require that the site of interment be three (3) nautical miles (3.5 mi / 5.6 km) from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet (180 m). In the northeastern United States this may require travel in excess of 30 miles (48 km) for a suitable site.

A few notable burials at sea:

  • Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) (body in lead coffin off the coast of Portobelo, Panama)
  • Stan Getz (1927-1991) (cremated, and ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean off Malibu, California)
  • Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) (cremated, and ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean)
  • Doug Henning (1947-2000) (cremated, and ashses scattered into the Pacific Ocean of Redondo Beach, California)
  • Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) (cremated, and ashes scattered in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf)
  • Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) (ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean)
  • Rock Hudson (1925-1985) (cremated ashes scattered)
  • Janis Joplin (1943-1970) (cremated at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, and her ashes scattered into the Pacific ocean)
  • DeForest Kelley (1920-1999) (ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean)
  • Gene Kelly (1912-1996) (cremated ashes scattered)
  • John F. Kennedy, Jr (1960-1999) (scattered into the Atlantic Ocean by the U. S. Navy off Martha’s Vinyard)
  • Werner Klemperer (1920-2000) (cremated ashes scattered)
  • Peter Lawford (1923-1984), actor, was cremated and ashes originally buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery; they were later removed and scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Steve McQueen (1930-1980) (cremated and ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean)
  • Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) [8]
  • Vincent Price (1911-1993) [9] (ashes scattered off Point Dume in Malibu, California)
  • Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Dudley Pickman Rogers Pound (1877-1943) (cremated ashes scattered)
  • Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) (cremated ashes scattered)
  • H. G. Wells (1866-1946) (cremated and ashes scattered in the sea off England)
  • Numerous RMS Titanic victims picked up by rescue ships, whose remains were too damaged to preserve or for whom the rescuers lacked sufficient embalming materials, were buried at sea
  • Following the 1962 execution in Israel of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi responsible for overseeing the extermination of millions of Jews during the Holocaust, his body was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea over the Mediterranean, in international waters. This was a unique procedure, followed in this special case since Israel obviously did not want such a person buried in its soil, and also did not want a grave elsewhere that might have become a place of pilgrimage for other Nazis.
  • Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) One “U.S. official” stated that “finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world’s most wanted terrorist would have been difficult.” It was also done to prevent his burial place from becoming a “terrorist shrine”. However Islam burial practices indicate that burial take place on land “deep enough so that no beast will bother the deceased . Burial at sea is also permitted to prevent the body from being dug up and desecrated .
  • There are many private companies now in business to handle burial at sea procedures. Some of them are very well priced with many different options for your loved one, including becoming a part of a living reef, scattering ashes, or full burial at sea. Below are some links to such businesses.

    Sea Services

    Ashes On Thesea

    Nature Spassage


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