Few people choose sea burial

By Mikaela Collins

2 comments
The price of a sea burial could be up to $12,000.
The price of a sea burial could be up to $12,000.

The high cost of sea burials and people wanting to respect Maori culture are factors contributing to the low number of people buried off Northland's coast.

Northland iwi Ngati Kahu voiced their opposition to sea burials being carried out at an authorised location within their rohe (area), about 70km off Cape Brett. In the past five years there had been three sea burials in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Newberrys Funeral Home owner-operator Freda Taylor said they usually received two or three inquiries a year about sea burials. However the price, which could be up to $12,000, and people wanting to be culturally sensitive, meant people often opted for a land-based ceremony.

"Given our sensitivity to our Maori culture, most people today who make inquiries do not actually end up burying their loved one at sea once the cultural aspect is explained. Burial at sea is an expensive exercise, often costing several thousands of dollars more than a typical burial," she said.

In Ngati Kahu's culture it is tapu to eat around the dead and the sea is their food source.

There are only five locations authorised by the Environment Protection Authority where sea burials are allowed in New Zealand. The location 70km off Cape Brett covers a 4 nautical mile radius (about 7km). No sea burials can take place in Northland outside that authorised area.

Ms Taylor said specific requirements must be met to gain approval for a sea burial, including the casket.

"Prior to the burial at sea, the deceased is placed into a weighted canvas bag then placed into a weighted casket to prevent the deceased or casket returning to the surface. At the appointed time and place, the [bio-degradable] casket is released down a slide system and falls immediately to the ocean floor."

She said Newberrys used lead weights which was dependant on the weight of the deceased. But before a sea burial was carried out a proposal form must be completed and provided to the EPA, at least three working days before the burial.

Dates, times and co-ordinates of the burial position must be submitted along with information about the ship or aircraft used and a doctor's certificate or coroner's authorisation.

Ms Taylor said Newberrys had only facilitated sea burials where boats were used and said it needed to be big enough to carry family, an EPA official, a funeral director and the casket holding the deceased.

The last time the company helped facilitate a sea burial was in 2009.

- Northern Advocate

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