Burial at sea

In Australia burials at sea are regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, which is administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Therefore, people seeking to arrange a burial at sea will require a sea dumping permit. A permit is required only for sea burial of bodies. No permit is required to scatter ashes.

There is no automatic right to a burial at sea. Permits are generally only granted to those with a demonstrated connection to the sea, such as long serving navy personnel or fishermen. It is suggested that those wishing to be buried at sea make their wishes, and the reasons for these wishes, known in a will or to a family member. This will allow the appropriate person to request a burial at sea and to provide sufficient justification for such a burial.

Arranging a burial at sea

The most difficult task in arranging a burial at sea is locating an appropriate burial site. The site must not conflict with other marine users (e.g. trawling, shipping) and must be at a depth greater than 3000m. Due to these constraints, the burial site may be located a long distance offshore. Consequently, there may be considerable logistical difficulties in arranging the burial. It is recommended that the person organising the burial at sea talk to local charter operators, who may be able to assist with logistics of the burial and provide advice on an appropriate site. Please note that the vessel carrying out the burial at sea must be a certificated commercial vessel and must be equipped with a GPS or similar to ensure that the burial takes place at the designated location.

Burials at sea should be organised by a funeral home. This will ensure that preparation for burial is in accordance with the Ship Captain's Medical Guide  and that the body is properly handled. The body must not be embalmed and should be sewn into a shroud (not placed in a casket or other such container). The shroud needs to be made of a very strong material and weighted sufficiently to ensure rapid sinking and permanent submersion of the body.

Permit application form

Applications should be made on the appropriate permit application forms and must be accompanied by the application fee and a copy of the death certificate. The permit approval process usually takes 3-4 working days. Burials cannot proceed without a permit.

Additional approvals for a burial at sea may be required from the relevant State or Territory. Approval for burial at sea under the Sea Dumping Act does not relieve applicants of the obligation to comply with any other law of the Commonwealth, State or Territory that is applicable to a burial at sea.

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