PLYMOUTH, MA – New England Burials at Sea welcomed Chris Burrell of the Patriot Ledger to a full body burial at sea ceremony that took place in the Gulf of Maine, a 3 hour cruise from Plymouth Harbor.
The Patriot Ledger is a paper primarily serving the Plymouth County and the South Shore region of coastal Massachusetts. Burrell’s article will be published in the Saturday, September 12th edition.
The copy of the article text is below. Follow this link to see the full article, including photographs, on the Patriot Ledger website.
Burials at sea becoming more popular
By Chris Burrell
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Sep. 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm
PLYMOUTH – There’s no casket and no church. Instead, cannonballs and a canvas shroud are the unmistakable trappings of a funeral out at sea.
On a recent Wednesday morning in Plymouth Harbor, the body of a 66-year-old man was zipped into a heavy cloth sack and laid out on the fantail of a charter boat, ready for a 2 1/2–hour voyage to his final resting place, 736 feet at the bottom of the ocean.
Motivated by a love of the sea, concern for the environment or a diminishing desire for religious funerals, people are choosing burial at sea more often, according to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the disposal of human remains in America’s oceans.
Last year, the agency’s regional office for the six New England states counted 131 sea burials, a six-fold increase over the 19 processed in 2006. Only five of last year’s sea burials were intact human remains.
At the forefront of this trend is Capt. Brad White, a Marshfield resident who started a business called New England Burials at Sea in 2006. White planned and oversaw last month’s full-body burial out of Plymouth and personally handled more than 150 sea burials last year from Maine to Florida.
“When people find out about this, they’re enthralled,” said White, who also presides over the events like a sea-going pastor.
Nearly all of them call for scattering ashes in the sea, a cheaper option with prices starting at $1,450 for a sea trip with up to six passengers and up to $3,650 for bigger parties. The cost of a full-body sea burial starts at just under $8,000.
Federal regulations require at least 600 feet of sea depth for bodies interred in the ocean, meaning a longer voyage in New England waters to reach deeper waters.
The median cost of a traditional burial in the U.S. was about $8,000 in 2012. Simple cremation of a body can cost from $700 to $1,200. Those prices do not include the cost of a cemetery plot for a casket or urn.
What prompted Robert Kimball to plan his own burial at sea was his love of the ocean, whether it was Revere Beach near his home or trips to Aruba, family members said.
A couple of days after Kimball died of cancer in August, more than 20 family members and friends climbed aboard the Angler, a 75-foot tour boat, in Plymouth Harbor and headed to an area northeast off Provincetown.
“This is what he wanted,” said daughter Lori Kimball, who lives in Halifax. “This is the last gift we could give him.”
Set on a table at the stern of the boat, an off-white canvas shroud with blue piping enclosed Robert Kimball’s body. Blue, red, black and white cannonballs rested on the white boat deck along with Sharpie pens for signing both the balls and the shroud.
“Fondest memories of the beach and the sea – from beginning to end,” read one of the messages signed on Kimball’s shroud.
Nearly three hours at sea and with no sight of land, the boat engines shut off and White gathered people on the fantail for the ceremony.
“This is the Gulf of Maine and home to 2,500 humpback whales and 415 right whales. Families get great comfort knowing that their loved ones are in that environment,” he said. “The body goes back to the earth in a very short time.”
Kimball’s son-in-law, Adrian Koni, played John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the guitar, and people remembered Bob Kimball’s big blue eyes and his year-round tan.
Cannonballs were lifted into a pouch at the bottom of the shroud, and White explained how pallbearers would gently tilt the tabletop.
“He will go in very fast,” said White.
Seawater splashed up as his body plunged into the ocean, and his children and grandchildren tossed flowers into the water.
One of the onlookers was not a family member or friend, but a potential client: 80-year-old Pat LeDoux of Burlington.
After watching the ceremony, she said she wants a full-body sea burial. A concern for dwindling land taken up by cemeteries is just one reason for her decision, said LeDoux.
“I believe in some ways we go on,” she said on the return voyage to Plymouth. “As my body begins to disintegrate, the fishes can feast on me and somehow I am giving back.”
LeDoux’s philosophy meshes with at least one of the biggest environmental organizations, Greenpeace.
“The way we typically handle death has greater environmental impact than most of us realize,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace. “If done thoughtfully, burial at sea can be a much greener alternative than the typical method of pumping a body full of toxic chemicals, putting it in a hardwood coffin, and burying it in a plot that needs to be tended and watered forever.”
Robert Kimball’s body was not embalmed, and most intact human remains buried at sea are not, said Ann Rodney, who administers the program for the EPA’s regional office in Boston.
The federal agency loosely oversees the process. Anyone with access to a boat can scatter ashes at sea as long as it’s done three miles from land. Within 30 days of disposing of ashes or a body at sea, the person responsible for the burial has to file a report with the EPA, noting the latitude and longitude where the remains were deposited, the name of the boat and the port from which it departed, said Rodney.
International media reports from China and Japan show growing interest in the practice of sea burials. White said that a Japanese TV crew this year filmed one of his ceremonies.
Miles off the coast of Provincetown last month, as the boat circled around the spot where Robert Kimball’s body was buried, White announced the coordinates and the Angler pointed back to Plymouth.
A half hour later, the engines throttled down and another announcement came over the speakers: The spouts of a Humpback whale were visible in the distance.
Whales came closer, their tails rising out of the sea and splashing down.
“Oh, my God, that’s amazing,” said Lori Kimball, watching from the top deck at the railing. “What a perfect ending to see that.”
Reach Chris Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Burrell_Ledger.