How to obtain a burial at sea licence

BURIAL AT SEA: Instructions For Obtaining A Licence Under The Food & Environment Protection Act 1985

1. Introduction

Under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (as amended) (FEPA) a licence is required for the deposit of any substances or articles either in the sea or under the seabed. In considering whether to issue a licence, the licensing authority is required to have regard to the need to protect the marine environment, the living resources that it supports, human health, and to prevent interference with other legitimate uses of the sea. The authority must also consider the practical availability of any alternative methods of depositing the substance or article. Nevertheless, the
licensing authority recognises that burial at sea is a tradition among those who have had a long association with the sea and will issue a licence provided the conditions at paragraph 4 below are met.

2. General

The Department / National Assembly does not encourage burial at sea, as tides and currents pose a significant risk of the body being returned to shore or being caught up in fishing gear. Such events naturally cause considerable distress to relatives, friends of the deceased and all concerned. To avoid that risk, the licensing authority recommends the scattering of cremation ashes at sea as a
more acceptable procedure - this can be undertaken without a FEPA licence.

3. Obtaining a Licence for Burial at Sea

3.1 There are presently three burial at sea sites, one off the Needles, Isle of Wight, one between Hastings and Newhaven on the South Coast, and a third on the Northumberland coast near Tynemouth. A licence may be obtained from the licensing authority by application to the Marine & Fisheries Agency or enquiries can be made to the local offices of the Marine Fisheries Agency (see link at top of page).

The licence will normally take the form of a letter to an undertaker, organisation or individual and will contain the name of the deceased, the prescribed period for burial and the location at which the burial is expected to take place.

3.2 If, through adverse weather conditions or other circumstances, burial cannot take place on the date prescribed on the licence, the licence holder must obtain an amendment to the licence from the local SFI.

3.3 Before a licence for burial at sea can be issued certain documents must be presented for inspection to the SFI prior to the burial. Death Certificate A "Certificate Of Freedom From Fever And Infection" Notice Of Intention To Remove A Body Out Of England (available from the Coroner in exchange for a Certificate of Disposal provided by the Registrar)

3.4 The Licensing Authority reserves the right to inspect the body and coffin and will give at least one day's notice of their intention to do so.

4. Conditions to be observed

Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection

4.1 Because of the possibility of water-borne infections, a "Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection" must be obtained from the deceased's General Practitioner or hospital doctor before a licence is issued. If for any reason a doctor is not prepared to issue a Certificate, burial at sea will not be permitted.

Removal of Body out of England

4.2 The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 requires that a body shall not be removed out of England (including Wales) until the expiration of 4 clear days. This certificate must be obtained before a burial at sea may take place.

Embalmed Bodies Not Permitted To Be Buried At Sea

4.3 Whilst acknowledging that embalming is the established, hygienic and most convenient way of preserving a body before burial, bodies that have been subjected to an embalming process will not be permitted to be buried at sea. This is because embalming substantially delays decomposition of the body tissues, thereby increasing the chance that the body may be returned to shore by tidal currents or being caught in fishing gear, to the distress of all concerned.

Acceptable Materials

4.4 The body may be lightly clad, commensurate with modesty, in biodegradable material.

4.5 Bio-degradable, absorbent padding may be used to absorb any leakage of body fluids.

4.6 To ensure that only natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials enter the marine environment, the coffin and any inner box or liner must be constructed from solid softwood (rather than veneered board or solid hardwood) and must not contain or have fittings made of plastic, lead, copper or zinc.

Specifications for the Coffin

4.7 The coffin will be subjected to considerable stress when entering the sea and during its descent to the seabed and must be constructed in such a way as to ensure that it will withstand any impact and carry the body to its final resting place. All corners of the coffin should be butt-jointed and strengthened with either mild steel right-angle brackets screwed internally or substantial wooden bracing struts (e.g. 50mm x 38mm).

4.8 40 to 50 holes of 50mm (2") should be drilled in the coffin. This allows the rapid ingress of water and exit of air, thereby ensuring that the coffin will sink quickly to the seabed.

4.9 To ensure that the body remains on the seabed it is required that approximately 200kg (4cwt) in total of iron, steel or concrete should be clamped to the base of the coffin with brackets of 10mm mild steel bar. Experience has shown that blocks of a weak concrete mix are suitable. The weight should be distributed in such a way that will resist any tendency for the coffin to assume a vertical position.

4. 10 A system of mild steel banding must be applied to the coffin with 2 bands around the longitudinal axis and bands also at approximately 30cm intervals around the coffin along its length to ensure that it withstands the impact on entry to the sea and deposit on the seabed.

4.11 A band of plastic or other durable material should be locked around the neck of the deceased and this band should be either punch-marked or indelibly marked with a telephone number and reference number that would allow the remains to be positively identified should the need arise.

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