Sea burial made easier, but few are interested

Few Hongkongers scatter the ashes of their loved ones into the sea, even though procedures have been simplified and burial niches cost more.

The government started to process applications for sea burials in Hong Kong waters in 1952, although few people applied in the early years.

Last year, the department approved 160 sea burial applications, a fraction of the 39,963 deaths in the city in the same period. In the first six months of this year, all 134 applications were approved.

Dominic Lau Kit-yan, chairman of the Funeral Business Association, said: 'Most Chinese still cannot accept it ... A government funerary niche costs more than HK$2,000. They'd rather wait for niches, but won't consider sea burials.'

Mr Lau added that most Chinese prefer to keep the ashes of relatives rather than see them disappear with a sea burial.

Since July 10 last year, people can apply to scatter human ashes into three designated areas of Hong Kong waters: east of Tap Mun, east of Tung Lung Chau and south of the West Lamma Channel. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will normally grant approval within five working days free of charge. Before, the government did not specify areas for sea burials. People could apply to the department providing information such as the time, date and location of the burial, as well as the personal particulars of the deceased.

It would then have to consult the Marine, Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Home Affairs, Leisure and Cultural Services, and Water Supplies departments before making an approval.

With almost 40,000 deaths annually in recent years, the government has also been pushing more land-saving burials such as scattering ashes of the dead in eight government Gardens of Remembrance.

From January last year to July this year, the hygiene department approved all 370 applications to put ashes in those gardens. But Mr Lau said setting up remembrance gardens was unrealistic and 'it would be more realistic for the government to provide more niches'.