Burial at sea

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Not to be confused with Ship burial.
For the downloadable episode "Burial at Sea" for BioShock Infinite, see BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea.
Burial at Sea for two casualties of a Japanese submarine attack on the US aircraft carrier USS Liscome Bay, November 1943

Burial at sea is the disposal of human remains in the ocean, normally from a ship or boat. It is regularly performed by navies, and is done by private citizens in many countries.

Burial at sea ceremony for cremated remains, on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, April 2011

By religion[edit]

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 religious representative (of the decedent's religion or the state religion) performs the ceremony.

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 that allow burial at sea, with some details of the burial. However, beliefs and views may differ within the same religion.

Buddhism[edit]

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. In Thailand ashes are generally placed in a wreath with lit candles and floated off to sea from a vessel followed by a procession of mourning wreaths, with lit candles also.

Christianity[edit]

Catholicism[edit]

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. Catholics believe it is not proper to scatter or pour the cremated remains over the sea, water, or on the land. According to the Roman Catholic Church this action does not give due respect to the remains of the deceased, nor does it allow for the closure and healing of family and friends. Likewise they see that the custom of housing the remains with family or friends and not placing the deceased in the ground does not offer loved ones a specific and sacred place to visit the individual. Visiting the deceased in a holy place provides believers with a space to offer prayers, commune with those who have gone before them in faith, and reminds them to await the resurrection of their own bodies. Burial at sea in a casket or in an urn is approved for cases where the deceased expired in the sea. The committal prayer number 406§4 is used in this case.[1]

Reformed/Protestantism[edit]

The Anglican Communion has detailed procedures for burial at sea. The ship has to be stopped, and the body has to be sewn in canvas, suitably weighted. 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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1928) of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA), a member of the Anglican Communion provides a specific prayer of committal for burials at sea:

At the Burial of the Dead at Sea. ¶ The same Office may be used; but instead of the Sentence of Committal, the Minister shall say, UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the deep; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.[2]

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.

Hinduism[edit]

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.

Islam[edit]

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, or if burial at land becomes impossible, 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.[3]

In the Sunni Fiqh book Umdat al-Salik wa Uddat al-Nasik, the condition for sea burial is:

It is best to bury him (the deceased) in the cemetery... If someone dies on a ship and it is impossible to bury him on land, the body is placed (O: tightly lashed) between two planks (O: to obviate bloating) and thrown into the sea (O: so that it reaches shore, even if the inhabitants are non-Muslims, since a Muslim might find the body and bury it facing the direction of prayer (qibla)).[4]

Judaism[edit]

According to Jewish law burial requires placing a person into the ground,[5] derived from Devarim 21:23 "bury bury him the same day; for the (unburied body) is a curse to God" (כִּי קָבוֹר תִּקְבְּרֶנּוּ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא כִּי קִלְלַת אֱלֹהִים) the double command to bury causing a positive commandment to entomb in the earth as soon as is possible and a negative commandment forbidding non-burial if encountering an unburied body. Even if a person is known to have drown in a contained body of water such as a lake or pond where any survivor would certainly be found, as opposed to the sea where they may have been carried away but have survived, the family does not begin ritual mourning until either the body is found or after an exhaustive search despairs of finding and burying the body.,[6] this shows that the body is considered unburied when underwater. Genesis 3:19 states "With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from (dust) you were taken and you are dust, and to dust you will return."(בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ כִּי עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל עָפָר תָּשׁוּב) showing that only under the ground, once ground for burial is available to the crew, rather than to the sea or another fate. If for some reason the body of someone deceased aboard a ship causes a life threat to those aboard the vessel the commandment to protect innocent life or pikuach nefesh overrides most commandments including the command to bury the dead and any appropriate actions to ensure safety of surviving crew are required to be taken which may include jettisoning a body at sea without burial though attempts would later be made to recover and bury when possible without life hazard.[7] An example of desire to bury in the ground long dead at sea Jewish sailors is that of the Israeli submarine Dakar which was lost with no survivors in 1968 but was only discovered in 1999 to lie broken at a depth of 3,000 meters, search and recovery of any potentially existing remains at this very difficult to access depth for burial has not shown results despite requests from family and the Chief Rabbi of the IDF.[8][9][10]

By country[edit]

Australia[edit]

Burial at sea within Australian territorial waters, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf is covered by the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping Act) 1981 administered by the federal Department of the Environment. A permit is required for burial of bodies at sea. Permits are usually only granted in cases of a strong connection to the sea, for example long serving navy personnel. The body must not be embalmed or placed in a casket, it may only be sewn into a weighted shroud. The burial must be in water deeper than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) and not interfere with shipping, fishing or undersea communications. Australian Defence Force vessels engaged in armed conflicts or emergency situations are exempt from these requirements.[11]

No permit is required to scatter ashes at sea.

United Kingdom[edit]

Burial at sea was a method hypothetically suggested by the then Medical Officer of Health for Liverpool, Dr Duncan Dolton, in which unburied bodies could be buried at sea during any extended strike by gravediggers union the GMWU during the Winter of Discontent. The suggestion caused great alarm amongst the public and helped prompt a resolution to the strike.[citation needed]

British colonial burials at sea of the 18th and 19th century involved wrapping the deceased in sailcoth weighted with cannonballs. The tradition continues with New England burials at sea, using a patented biodegradable handmade Atlantic sea burial shroud with authentic 37.5 cannonballs as ballast, smelted in Massachusetts at the historical Civil War foundry that has supplied Old Ironsides ([12]) since before the war of 1812.

United States[edit]

A funeral director is not required for the burial of cremated remains at sea. However, full body burials require specific preparation to ensure the body or coffin sinks quickly. The Environmental Protection Agency regulations for full body burials at sea in the United States require that the site of interment be 3 nautical miles (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet (180 m). California prohibits whole body burial within its state-asserted three-mile limit. Off the eastern coast of the United States, the closest sufficient depths are off Long Island (75 miles/121 km), Ocracoke (20 miles/32 km), and Miami (5 miles/8.0 km). This may require travel in excess of 30 miles (48 km) for a suitable site.[13] Sufficient depth is within 10 miles or less at many harbors along the U.S. west coast, including San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Fort Bragg, Eureka, and Crescent City, all in California.[14] The United States Navy inters intact remains from Norfolk and San Diego only.[15] The United States Navy requires a metal casket for intact remains, but full body burial in a suitably weighted shroud is also legal. The United States is similar to many countries which permit the spreading of cremation ashes within their Exclusive Economic zone - when spreading ashes from a ship which is registered in a different country, the regulations and reporting procedures for the ships flag state need to be complied with once the vessel is in international waters, that is, outside 12 nautical miles. Ships follow the London convention principles, as opposed to MARPOL regulations, as the ash is intentionally taken on board for discharge at sea, as opposed to ash generated on passage from the ship's incinerators. It should be further considered that on 1 January 2013, MARPOL Annex V will come into force, which prevents discharge of a ship's incinerator ash.

United States Navy[edit]

The burial at sea of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, performed by the U.S. Navy on the USS Philippine Sea in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14, 2012.

The United States Navy has performed many burials at sea in its history, with wartime burials as recently as World War II, and peacetime burials still common. Enemy deaths received the same ceremony as Americans or allies. Most other armed forces also perform burials at sea, such as the British Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.

If the deceased died on land or has been returned to shore after death, the remains may be brought aboard either in a coffin or in an urn after cremation. The ceremony is performed while the ship is deployed, and consequently civilians are not allowed to be present. Eligible surviving families wishing to be present during burials at sea may arrange private services with a USCG-certified provider such as New England Burials at Sea, which follows military protocols. In the USA, people eligible for a free Navy burial at sea are:

  • Active-duty members of the uniformed services
  • Retirees and honorably discharged veterans
  • Military Sealift Command U.S. civilian marine personnel
  • Family members of the above

In preparation, the officer of the deck calls All hands bury the dead, and the ship is stopped (if possible). The ship's flags are lowered to half mast. The ship's crew, including a firing party, casket bearers and a bugler, are assembled on the deck. The crew stands at parade rest at the beginning of the ceremony. The coffin is covered with a flag, and is carried feet first on deck by the casket bearers. The casket is placed on a stand, with the feet overboard. In case of cremated remains, the urn is brought on deck and placed on a stand.

The ceremony is divided into a military portion and a religious portion. The religious part is specific to the religion of the deceased, and may be performed by a Navy chaplain, or by the commanding officer if no chaplain of the appropriate faith is available. A scripture is read and prayers are said.

After the religious ceremony, the firing party is ordered Firing party, present arms. The casket bearers tilt the platform with the casket, so that the casket slides off the platform into the ocean. The flag which was draped over the casket is retained on board. For cremated remains, there is the option to bury the remains using the urn in a similar fashion to the procedure used for caskets. Alternatively, the urn can be opened, and the remains scattered in the wind. In this case, the wind direction has to be taken under consideration before burial to ensure a smooth procedure.

The firing party fires a three volley salute, the bugler plays Taps, and flowers may also be dropped into the ocean. After the flag is folded, the ceremony ends. The relatives will be informed of the time and location of the burial, and given photos and video recordings if available.

Wartime burial for deceased at sea[edit]

Burial at sea for the casualties of the USS Intrepid, hit by Japanese bombs during operations in the Philippines, November 26, 1944
Navy firing detail as part of a burial-at-sea in 2008 for one of the 316 survivors of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) sinking on July 30, 1945, during World War II.
Burial at sea on the USS Enterprise, May 19, 2004.
Cremated remains at sea on the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), May 1, 2003.

In wartime, attempts are made for burial at sea to follow the same procedure as for peacetime burial at sea, although a ship on a combat mission may not have all the necessary resources available. Nowadays, it is usually possible to airlift the remains back to shore, and prepare a burial ceremony on land. However, as recently as World War II, deceased were buried at sea without returning to land. Due to the limited facilities of military ships, this procedure usually does not include a casket, but the body is sewn into a sailcloth with weights, usually rocks or cannonballs. Cremation is usually not possible on a ship. During the Pacific campaign there were some instances where deceased aircrews were buried at sea in the remains of their damaged aircraft, which were ceremonially pushed overboard from their aircraft carrier[16][17]

Memorial services at sea[edit]

If no remains of the deceased are available a memorial service may be held, and flowers may be dropped in the water, often over or near the location of the death.

People buried at sea[edit]

A few notable burials at sea:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ NCCBUSCC.org Accessed September 3, 2010
  2. ^ Book of Common Prayer (1928) p.337 [The Church Pension Fund]
  3. ^ "Taharat". Al-Islam.org. 
  4. ^ Reliance of the Traveller, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, p 237, Translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Amanah publications, ISBN 0-915957-72-8
  5. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 362:1.
  6. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 375:7
  7. ^ Leviticus 18:5 "אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם"
  8. ^ http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1992-10-18/news/1992292004_1_israeli-navy-submarine-dakar-israeli-government
  9. ^ http://www.haaretz.com/news/nasa-says-remains-of-all-7-astronauts-recovered-then-retracts-1.20315
  10. ^ http://submarines.dotan.net/dakar/search/index.htm
  11. ^ "Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping Act) 1981". Australian Government. 
  12. ^ USS Constitution
  13. ^ "Federal Register, Volume 40, Section 229.1". 
  14. ^ Google Earth bathymetry
  15. ^ http://www.navy.mil/navydata/navy_legacy_hr.asp?id=204
  16. ^ "criticalpast.com, U.S. Navy TBF Avenger gunner from USS Essex is buried at sea with his aircraft during World War II, Location: Manila Philippines, Date: 1944, November 5". 
  17. ^ "In memory of Loyce Edward Deen USNR WW II, (1921 - 1944) and all who served aboard the USS Essex". 
  18. ^ Heinlein Society
  19. ^ Vincent Price (1911–1993) - Find A Grave Memorial
  20. ^ Robert Mitchum (1917–1997) - Find A Grave Memorial
  21. ^ "Doug Henning". 
  22. ^ "Sir Edmund Hillary takes final voyage, ashes scattered at sea". The New Zealand Herald. 29 February 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  23. ^ "Osama bin Laden's body buried at sea". 2 May 2011. 
  24. ^ Yahoo report
  25. ^ Osama Bin Laden Body Headed for Burial at Sea, Officials Say - The Note
  26. ^ "Neil Armstrong's remains committed to the sea". CNN. 14 September 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2012.