Taboo bars scattering of funeral ashes near Brothers Islands

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2007, 12:00am

A Chinese taboo of touching dead people's remains has led to the government agreeing to a Tuen Mun District Council demand to ban sea burials off the Brothers Islands.

The decision, announced by officials at yesterday's meeting of the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel, means only three areas will be designated for scattering ashes.

A revision of application procedures has also cut the waiting period to five days. Ash scattering actually started in April near the Brothers Islands location, but from next month it will be restricted to designated waters off Tap Mun and Tung Lung Chau, and in the West Lamma Channel.

Legislator Wong Kwok-hing had questioned why the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department would not listen to opposition by Tuen Mun district councillors to the scattering of ashes at a site to the east of the Brothers Islands.

'Tuen Mun residents are afraid that the scattered ashes of people and flower petals would float to Tuen Mun's Castle Peak Beach and nearby coasts,' Mr Wong said.

Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Cheuk Wing-hing then said the bureau had cancelled launching boats for sea burials at that location but did not say if the decision was the result of public pressure.

'There are concerns over the designation of particular areas ... To this end, we have been explaining to the concerned parties about the harmless nature of cremated human ashes on the environment and people,' officials said in a paper.

At the three designated sites where the ceremonies will be allowed, people will be banned from dumping food, paper and incense offerings into the sea.

The ceremonies may take place only during daylight hours, as requested by district councillors.

Also, the strewing of no more than a small bowl of flower petals will be allowed, in response to Mr Wong's call for a limitation.

'If people swimming see flower petals floating next to them, would they feel disgusted?' he said.

Agricultural and fisheries sector lawmaker Wong Yung-kan and Liberal Party legislator Vincent Fang Kang disagreed with an upper limit on petals. 'Relatives going to the burial would like to scatter flower petals to pay tribute to the deceased, but now each person can scatter just a few petals,' Mr Fang said.

Officials have not said whether the limit on petals would be monitored, but said as petals were biodegradable it should not be a concern.