But proposal to ban throwing of flowers should not be so strict, say lawmakers
People wanting to scatter the ashes of their loved ones at sea will have four special places to do so - but the government is still considering whether they should be allowed to throw flowers in the water as well.
In the latest move to alleviate the shortage of burial spaces and urn niches, waters off the east of Tap Mun, east of Tung Lung Chau, southwest of the Lamma Channel and east of the Brothers Islands have been designated for ash-casting.
But unlike the burial services on land, people may be forbidden to throw flowers, food and offerings along with the ashes into the sea.
Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Cheuk Wing-hing presented the proposed four areas on the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel yesterday.
'It will take only 20 to 30 minutes from nearby piers to get to the designated areas, which, we think, is quite convenient,' he said.
Under present law, applications for scattering human ashes at the sea need to be processed on a case-by-case basis.
But to streamline the system, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will prepare a standard application form, including places and waters for the ashes to be scattered.
Mr Cheuk said an application could be approved within five working days.
Under the preliminary proposal, the government has proposed banning people from dumping food, flowers and offerings into the sea to prevent nuisance or pollution. Anyone dumping these items could be fined for littering.
Also, in case fishing vessels are present, scattering of ashes should be conducted away from fishing areas.
Mr Cheuk said currents in the designated waters were rapid so ashes would not pose an environmental problem. He said the departments involved would take enforcement action against littering, environmental nuisance and pollution.
Though most lawmakers on the panel supported the proposal, they urged the government to ease the ban on dumping flowers.
Wong Yung-kan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: 'No matter in which religion, say Buddhism or Christianity, flowers are a common offering in funerals. It sounds too strict if flowers are forbidden to accompany the ashes to go into the sea.'
Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki agreed that an appropriate amount of flowers should be allowed in the sea burial ceremony. He suggested that the government should prevent people from dumping too many flowers or throwing wrapping paper and baskets into the sea as well.
Mr Cheuk promised that the government would reconsider the ban and it hoped to announce the proposed scheme next month.