BEIJING • Last Saturday, undertaker Chen Qi set sail for another sea burial, carrying with him 60 urns from Harbin. Since 2009, 559 people from the inland north-eastern Chinese city have had their ashes scattered in the sea.
Traditionally, Chinese would have the bodies of their late loved ones buried, as they believe that souls rest in peace only if their bodies are covered by soil. The practice is also considered more respectful to the deceased. However attitudes are changing.
"We have seen more families take part in sea burials in recent years," said Mr Chen, who has been in the business for 19 years.
"They've also realised that nobody will look after their graves when their children and grandchildren all pass away," added Mr Chen.
More people are seeing the importance of having an environmentally friendly burial.
"We all realise that sea burials do the least harm to our environment," said Ms Ren from Harbin, who attended the sea burial in north-east China's Dalian where she sent off her late mother.
"So we just decided to give up the idea of buying a grave."
China's latest policy on burials, unveiled last month, promotes eco-burials, including sea and tree burials, to ensure a harmonious relationship between humans and nature.
Eco-burials save land, reduce funeral costs and do less harm to the environment, said the Ministry of Civil Affairs and eight other departments in a joint statement.
Nevertheless, some still have reservations about sea burials.
They worry about not having a place to honour their loved ones during Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day, which falls on April 4 this year.
Professor Zhang Yiwu of Peking University said: "On the one hand, sea burials are widely encouraged. On the other hand, people do need a place to pay tribute to their ancestors. It's a rooted tradition."
For people in south China's Guangdong province where sea burials are popular, that might not be a concern for long.
There are plans to build a memorial park with tombstones for those who undergo sea burials, said Mr Chen Yakai, secretary of the discipline inspection commission of Shenzhen , last week.
The government of Jiangmen in Guangdong has also announced plans to set up a memorial wall by the end of the year for those whose ashes are scattered at sea.
"Such measures connect sea burials with the tradition of tomb- sweeping," said Prof Zhang, emphasising the importance of setting up more public memorial sites.
"They mean a lot to the future of sea burials in China."