In simple terms, by ‘burial at sea’ it means the final disposal of human body in the open water. This act of disposing a human body is generally done from a ship or boat. Mostly performed by navies, burial at sea can even be done by common people also in few nations.
Today, in the US, burial at sea service can be performed at many locations with varying customs and traditions. This service is performed either from a ship or an aircraft under the supervision of the captain of the ship or aircraft.
For burial at sea in a ship, many things can be involved such as a simple burial in a biodegradable casket, burial in biodegradable cremation urn or burial sewn in sailcloth. At times scattering of the cremated remains can also be done as a form of burial at sea. Burial at sea by aircraft can only be done with cremated remains. In few places, provision are there to mix the cremation ashes with concrete in order to make a block and then it is dropped in the sea to form a kind of artificial reef.
There is no need of a funeral director during burial in a biodegradable cremation urn at sea. However, for full body burials, there are certain rules that need to be followed in order to make sure the body or coffin sinks quickly. As per the regulations made by the Environmental Protection Agency, for full body burials at sea in the US, the site of interment should be three nautical miles from land and the depth should be at least 600 feet.
In the US, burial at sea is performed on United States Naval vessels. As the burial process takes place while the ship is deployed, family members of the deceased cannot be present there. It is one of the commanding officer of the ship who is assigned to perform burial at sea. It will be the duty of the commanding officer to make notification to the family members of the deceased of the date, time, latitude and longitude of the committal service.
Not all people in the US are eligible for the burial at sea program. People who are eligible for this kind of program must belong to any of the four categories:
- Current duty members serving the nation wearing a uniform
- Retirees and veterans who served the nation wearing a uniform
- U.S. civilian marine personnel belonging to the Military Sealift Command
- Dependent family members of current duty personnel, retirees, and veterans who served the nation wearing a uniform
Note: People who do not fall in the above mentioned categories cannot be a part of this kind of program.
Human remains can be buried at sea under specified conditions mentioned in the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuary Act of 1972. There are specific rules regarding human remains transported from U.S. ports or on U.S. vessels or aircraft for burial at sea along with the disposal location and measures. To know about the rules and complete procedure of burial at sea, visit www.navy.mil and www.epa.gov
All the burial at sea that are performed needs to be reported within 30 days to the EPA Region in writing.
To conclude, burial at sea is a great honor for those who belonged to the uniformed services. This service is also a very eco friendly or “green” way to dispose of a person’s remains. This green funeral will definitely become more popular in future.