Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Sea burials offer families a serene alternative

PEACEFUL SEND-OFF Seen as a means of saving space for the living, Taipei is busy promoting sea burials, hoping to boost the number of residents choosing watery wakes

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

A government staffer yesterday displays a heart-shaped locket at an event jointly hosted by the Taipei City and County governments to promote ``sea burials.'' This year's ceremony will take place on May 5.

PHOTO: CHU PEI-HSIUNG, TAIPEI TIMES.

In the three years since Taipei City Government started promoting "sea burials" as an environmentally friendly and space-saving form of final farewell, 39 people have chosen the unconventional method.

As part of increased efforts to promote this novel method of burial, the city government's Mortuary Services Office is working in conjunction with Taipei County Government this year to expand the scale of the sea burial program -- in which people's ashes are put into a box and then thrown into the sea.

"The concept of a sea burial takes into account concerns about the environment and land availability. We hope it will serve as a suitable alternative to traditional interment and help to save space for those of us still living," Taipei City Social Welfare Department Director Hsueh Cheng-tai (薛承泰) said yesterday during a press conference.

A common misconception about sea burials is that ashes are sprinkled into the sea from an urn.

But Mortuary Services Office Deputy Chief Liu Li-fang (劉立方) said the office helps the families of the deceased to wrap the ashes with cotton paper, and then puts them in a "rest box," a paper box wrapped with ribbons. During the burial ceremony, office staff take families of the dead to sea by boat and help them to throw the box into the sea along with flowers.

"On the way to the site for last year's service, the relatives of the deceased held the boxes and chatted on the boat. Most of them were calm, and it almost felt like we were going on a trip, not attending a funeral," she told the Taipei Times.

To make up for the sorrow and sense of emptiness families feel after the burial service, the office is offering free heart-shape lockets this year so that loved ones can preserve a small portion of the ashes in the necklace as a memorial.

Liu said that people from other areas had applied, including two foreigners.

"The deceased, or their family members are drawn to the idea of a sea burial because of their love for nature or because they want a simpler form of funeral," she said.

Last year, 28 people chose a sea burial, compared with only five and six applicants respectively in the first two years of the program.

The Funeral Statute, which regulates the funeral industry, also promotes burials in gardens.

The office is accepting applications for this year's sea burial between now and April 10. The service will be held on May 5.

For more information, the Mortuary Services Office can be reached at 02-2733-6142 ext. 1201-1203.

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