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Offer incentives to encourage families to choose sea burials

Ecological sea burials as encouraged by the National Environment Agency (NEA) is a move I support, but the proposed location in Tanah Merah may not be ideal for scattering human ashes (Consultations ongoing for sea burial site, by the Ministry of Education; May 14).

Beyond the concerns over ash dispersal (Sea current will carry ashes to recreational area, by Dr Leslie Kuek; April 27), there is something principally incongruous about choosing a confined coastal space for an event so symbolic of shedding one's earthly tether.

To facilitate more effective and meaningful burials at sea, the NEA could consider a communal approach to convey remains out to open water.

After traditional funeral proceedings at the crematorium, ashes could be stored and then transported in regularly scheduled waves. Arrangements could be made for family members and religious officiators to accompany the convoy.

The discussion on sea burials also informs the broader discussion on the rising costs of interment in land-scarce Singapore. A columbarium niche, for instance, can cost between $1,200 and $20,000.

While many may be open to the idea of a sea burial, a large number remain reluctant to choose that option.

Major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai serve as instructive examples. Since the 1990s, these municipal governments have offered cash subsidies to families opting for ecological burials, such as sea or tree burials. In Beijing, families receive a 5,000 yuan (S$1,050) subsidy and waiver of funeral service costs. According to news reports, ecological burials accounted for 44 per cent of total burials in Beijing.

The NEA could consider offering similar incentives to encourage sea burials here, supporting the time-honoured axiom of "ashes to ashes, dust to dust".

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 20, 2018, with the headline 'Offer incentives to encourage families to choose sea burials'. Print Edition | Subscribe