Saturday, 7 April 2018

Sea burial facility to be built along Tanah Merah shoreline

Families won't have to travel by boat to scatter ashes at sea once the facility is ready next year
By Jasia Shamdasani, The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2018

Families could soon opt to scatter the ashes of their loved ones at sea without having to travel by boat.

A new burial facility will be built along the shoreline in Tanah Merah, with a boardwalk that extends into the sea to allow the scattering of ashes.

The sea burial facility is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of next year. It will have four pavilions, each of which can accommodate seven people, and a shelter for 28 people, among other features, Lianhe Zaobao reported yesterday.

The facility will be open to any member of the public, regardless of race or religion.

Currently, ashes can be scattered at a designated site located about 2.8km south of Pulau Semakau, off southern Singapore. Those who choose sea burial will have to rent a boat to get to the site.

With the new facility, the National Environment Agency (NEA) hopes to make it more convenient for people to conduct their sea burial ceremonies and to protect the dignity and decorum of the proceedings.

Prior to construction, comprehensive consultancy studies and a study on the impact on the environment will have to be conducted.

Scattering of ashes at sea can cost about $100 without any ritual, or $400 to $480 with rituals, according to undertakers whom The Straits Times spoke to. It would cost at least $1,200 to place the ashes in a niche at a columbarium, they said.

Undertakers have seen an increase in the number of sea burial requests, with the majority coming from Buddhists and Hindus.

"In general, there is an increase in the number of people who opt for sea burial," said Mr Roland Tay, 71, funeral director of Direct Funeral Services.

This increase could be due partly to not wanting to put a burden on their family members during the annual Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, and the lower cost of sea burial.

"If a place can be dedicated for sea burial, many Hindus will be able to conduct burial ceremonies for their loved ones and I think many Hindus will appreciate it a lot," said Swami Vimokshananda, 69, president of Ramakrishna Mission Singapore.

Mr Ben Tay, 39, funeral director of Teck Hin Undertaker Funeral Services, said: "This facility will provide one more option for a larger ritual and will make it safer and more convenient for people with disabilities to attend the ritual."

NEA is also considering the feasibility of a land-based ecological burial service as an additional option for the placement of cremated remains. This will be confirmed by the end of this year.




















* NEA: Sea burial site not a recreational beach

We thank Mr Jason Lim Swee Kay and Mr Lee Yu Xiang for their feedback (Don't put death in the middle of lively beach, April 12; Imperative to gain buy-in for sea burials, April 13).

The planned near-shore post-death rites facility will broaden the options available to bereaved families. The proposed location of the facility is not a recreational beach and is currently covered by dense undergrowth.

The strip of coastline along the site is also not planned for recreational purposes in the future.

The decision to site the facility at the Tanah Merah location was made after careful consideration and extensive consultation over several years with the relevant authorities. The facility owners and operators nearest to the proposed site were also consulted.

The National Environment Agency is currently procuring consultancy services, which include a study to minimise the environmental impact of the construction and operation of the proposed facility.

Relevant feedback and suggestions received will also be incorporated in the design and operation of the facility to preserve the dignity of the rites.

Construction works are expected to start next year and the new facility is targeted to be ready by the end of next year.

Wong Chiu Ying (Ms)
Director Facilities Planning and Development
National Environment Agency
ST Forum, 21 Apr 2018










What's the controversy behind sea burials?
As people voice mixed feelings about facility's location, NEA says it is not in recreational area
By Low De Wei and Esther Koh, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2018

People reacted with mixed feelings when the National Environment Agency (NEA) said a new facility will be built on the Tanah Merah coastline for the scattering of human ashes.

The proposed site is south of the busy Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and Changi Naval Base, but close to recreational areas to their west.

Up to five water sports centres dot the stretch of beaches nearby. They include the MOE Sea Sports Centre, NSRCC Sea Sports Centre, and the National Sailing Centre.

The proposed site sits in a bay conducive for water activities, thanks to breakwaters, which reduce the strength of the sea currents, said Mr Jason Lim Swee Kay.

The sailing enthusiast was the general manager of the Singapore Sailing Federation from 2010 to 2014. He now frequents the area to sail three to four times a week.

"If you go during the weekend, you will see sailboats, windsurfers, kayaks and stand-up paddling boards all over.There are as many as 150 to 200 people in the water," he said.

Sailing lessons, regattas and open-water swimming events are often held there as well.

But NEA said the proposed site is not a recreational beach and is currently covered by dense undergrowth. The strip of coastline along the proposed site is also not planned for recreational purposes in the future.

Furthermore, facility owners and operators nearest to the proposed site were consulted earlier, the authority said.

NO HEALTH RISKS

Dr Yeo Chor Tzien, a respiratory specialist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, said human ash is unlikely to pose any danger to one's health.

He said it is sterile and when dispersed in small amounts, will not contribute to air pollution.

"It will not clog the airways, cause airway inflammation, aggravate asthma or predispose one to lung cancer or infection," he added.

Direct Funeral Services founder Roland Tay said when ashes are released into the sea, "they flow with the waves to places far away".

"They are not affected by the water activities nearby, which are usually contained in an area closer to shore," he added.

Others raised the issue of pollution, which can happen when food offerings and incense materials - used during the rites - are dropped into the water.

This explains why urns are not allowed to be dropped into the water, according to Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore guidelines.

Questions have also been asked about the possible impact to marine life due to construction and site operations. The NEA said it is planning to conduct a study to minimise the environmental impact of the construction and operation of the proposed facility.

"Relevant feedback and suggestions received will also be incorporated in the design and operation of the facility to preserve the dignity of the rites," NEA added.

Construction is due to start next year and the new facility is targeted to be ready by the end of that year.

WHY SCATTER ASHES AT SEA

Singapore has seen a steady increase in demand for the scattering of ashes at sea, say businesses that offer funeral services.

Mr Tay said about 20 per cent of his clients who opt for cremation indicate a wish to have their cremated remains scattered at sea.

Five years ago, it was one in 10.

The practice helps resolve the issue of a lack of burial sites, and the cost of keeping cremated remains in a columbarium.

It costs between $80 and $100 to scatter ashes at sea.

The minimum cost of keeping a niche at a columbarium is a one-time payment of $500 at a government facility. The two run by the government are Choa Chu Kang Columbarium and Mandai Columbarium.

While the scattering of ashes is practised in other countries as well, the reception has been different.

Similar land scarcity issues in Hong Kong prompted the government to open applications for the scattering of ashes at sea in 1952.

But many locals felt that the practice disrespects the dead. In 2014, only 9 per cent of Hong Kongers who were cremated had their ashes scattered, and even fewer opted for it to be done at sea.

About 2,000 Germans opted to have their cremated remains scattered in the Northern and Baltic seas last year. The country has a population of 82 million.

The Chinese government also began promoting the practice in 1991, offering government subsidies and services to support it, but it did not catch on.

In Singapore, an area 2.8km south of Pulau Semakau is currently allocated as the official site for the scattering of human ashes.

However, the NEA said that it is also done informally in other locations.

"There are some community groups which conduct near-shore funeral rites with the scattering of cremated ashes at sea," said an NEA spokesman, who added that bereaved families have been doing so at secluded spots along the coastline.

This is different from burying bodies at sea, a practice that was conducted here in the past, but is no longer allowed.

One notable sea burial involved the highly respected medical practitioner Malcolm John Rattray, who died in 1931. He was laid to rest in the sea "two miles south-east of St John's Island".

A Malaya Tribune report described the burial: "As the coffin went over the side (of the boat), a seaplane from the (Singapore) Flying Club flew over and dipped in salute."








Future options for a final resting place
The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2018

On the way in Singapore...

Going Green

Environmentally friendly, this method involves depositing the cremated remains in a natural environment, either by scattering the ashes directly on the soil, or by placing them in a biodegradable urn among plants to decompose naturally.

The National Environment Agency is holding public consultations with relevant stakeholders and will announce its findings by year's end.

New ideas overseas

Eternal Reefs

Crushed bones of the dead, left over from cremations, can find a new lease of life as homes for fishes and organisms that live in reefs.

Georgia-based Eternal Reefs has developed an artificial reef material by mixing concrete and crushed bones. This material is shaped into orbs and placed in areas that require reef restoration.

Promession

Developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, promession involves freeze-drying a corpse using liquid nitrogen. The frozen body is then disintegrated by vibration using a mechanical device. The weight of the remains is only 30 per cent of the original mass. This is placed in a biodegradable casket.

Alkaline hydrolysis

A greener alternative to the typical cremation involving fire, alkaline hydrolysis is done using an alkaline solution made with potassium hydroxide. It reduces the body to a skeleton. This controversial method of "liquefying" human remains and releasing it into the sewage system has limited public appeal and faced regulatory obstacles in various Western countries.


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