March 2010 Navy
by LCDR David M. Bradley, USN (Ret)
Navy Burial at Sea Program
In February’s article, I discussed planning for your final arrangements and figured that I had covered most everything that one would need to know to complete his/her planning. Well, I missed one item of interest to all of us in the Naval service, that of burial at sea.
The Navy performs burials at sea (BAS) for active duty members of the uniformed services; retirees and veterans who were honorably discharged; U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command; and dependent family members of active duty personnel, retirees, and veterans of the uniformed services. Arrangements are handled through the United States Navy Mortuary Affairs office and are fairly simple.
Subsequent to the death of the individual desiring to be buried at sea, the primary contact (referred to as the Person Authorized to Direct Disposition or PADD) needs to print out and complete a Burial at Sea Request Form (available at http://www.npc.navy.mil/NR/rdonlyres/F39ABC43-0397-41C1-9C47-214F21106381/0/BurialatSea2.doc). This document contains the complete instructions as well as all required information when completed. Additional documentation required are the death certificate, a burial transit permit or cremation certificate, and a copy of the DD-214, discharge certificate or retirement order (the BAS package). The aforementioned form also contains instructions for casketed remains that should be provided to your local funeral home.
If a burial flag is sent along with the remains, that flag will be flown on the ship during the ceremony and later returned to the PADD. As Navy burials at sea are conducted during normal deployments or operations, family members are not allowed to be present. There are some exceptions made for family members in the military. The commanding officer of the ship conducts the ceremony and, at its completion, will provide the PADD with the date, time, latitude, longitude (usually provided on an annotated chart). Digital pictures of the service may be provided if the command has that capability, otherwise a camera should be provided. Some additional information on the official Navy service and a very good description of the procedures are given at a Wikipedia site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burial_at_sea.
Burial at sea arrangements are handled at one of five ports of embarkation; Norfolk, VA; Jacksonville, FL; San Diego, CA; Bremerton, WA; and Honolulu, HI. Detailed contact information for the Burial-at-Sea Coordinator for the area is contained in the form referenced above.
Casketed remains must be in a metal casket and prepared according to the instructions referenced earlier. The PADD must select a funeral home at the port of embarkation (your local funeral home will assist in this). The remains are not forwarded until the coordinator for that area is notified that a ship has been assigned and an embarkation date determined. Once this is determined, the casketed remains, BAS package, and the flag may be shipped to the receiving funeral home. Norfolk and San Diego are the only ports that provide this service.
Cremated remains may be in an urn, or a temporary container such as a plastic, metal, or cardboard container so constructed as to prevent spillage. The remains, along with the BAS package and flag, may then be forwarded to the area coordinator after the coordinator has been informed of the request.
Most, if not all, funeral homes are familiar with these requirements and are encouraged, should they have questions, to contact the Navy Mortuary Affairs office at 1-866-787- 0081.
Civilian Burial at Sea
Civilian burials at sea (casketed remains) are much more complicated and expensive but offer the advantage of family participation. If you were to budget for a casketed burial at sea that would be preplanned far in advance of need, you should consider spending at least two to three times the cost of a traditional funeral with cemetery interment. Not only are their differing regulations for each of the seven EPA coastal regions, but also the individual states have their own requirements. As an example, only the State of California does not permit burial at sea for casketed remains.
Cremated remains may be scattered anywhere at sea, at least three nautical miles from land. Casketed remains must also be interred at least three nautical miles from land in at least water with a depth in excess of 600 feet.
A relatively new twist on the scattering option is the biodegradable urn. There are a number of companies who make them, and the process for deploying them is quite simple. The cremated remains are sealed within the natural, organic biodegradable urn, which is then placed into the water by the family. In short order, the urn degrades and the cremated remains are “returned to nature.”
There are, however, several interesting and more permanent ocean placement options. You may have heard of the Atlantis Project, (www.atlantismemorialreef.com), a new alternative resting place that promises to be the “City for Eternity,” located off the coast of Miami, Florida. Plans for the project include a memorial garden for cremated remains, a large man-explorers, and a place for commemorating mankind’s accomplishments.
For those who wish to create a permanent resting place and make a lasting contribution to the marine ecosystem, Great Burial Reef, Inc., based in Sarasota, Florida (www.greatburialreef.com), builds living ocean reefs and honors loved ones by permanently placing sealed urns containing the individual’s cremated remains within the reef structure. Hand cast and engraved bronze pyramid urns are permanently sealed in niches within large concrete structures that, over time, become living marine communities.
Most major metropolitan areas have at least one, if not more, maritime funeral providers; and they may be found in your local phone directory or through a reference from your local funeral home.