Elderly increasingly open to scattering of ashes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 December, 2010, 12:00am

With the shortage of urn storage spaces more people are choosing to scatter the ashes of their loved ones at sea or in the government's gardens of remembrance.

The number of families choosing such alternative funerals has been growing steadily in recent years.

Between late January, when the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department introduced free ferry services, and October 700 families chose sea funerals - 2 1/2 times the number for the whole of last year.

At the same time, the ashes of more than 900 people were scattered in remembrance gardens, compared with 650 last year and a few more than 380 in 2008. These two alternative means of disposal now account for about 5 per cent of the 35,000 cremations conducted each year.

Each Saturday about 40 families are taken on the department's free ferries to scatter ashes at three designated spots. The waiting time is about a month.

Gary Sham Chi-wing, a social worker at St James' Settlement's Funeral Navigation Services, which helps people make funeral arrangements, said demand for sea burials was rising in a 'sharp curve'.

'The government always says there are not enough niches. Some old people do not want to trouble their families to find a place for them. They prefer to be free in the sea,' he said.

The elderly are also increasingly open to the idea of having their ashes scattered in one of the eight Gardens of Remembrance run by the department. Families can do that free after applying.

'Old people now think it is a respectful way to deal with their ashes. In a way, they can be transformed into nutrients for plants in the garden,' Sham said.

St James' Settlement polled 400 adults last year, of whom more than 40 per cent said they would like to have their ashes scattered in the sea or gardens. 'The statistics have clearly shown us that Hongkongers are getting more and more open-minded.'