April 9, 2012 | By Dan Askin | 8 Comments
It started the way many other businesses do, says Abbie Strudley, spokeswoman for My Final Cruise
(MFC), the first company in the ash-scattering-by-cruise-ship industry.
“We said, here’s a need that’s not being filled.”
The aim: Help people send off loved ones on a that final, inevitable voyage.
There are strict policies for what can and can’t be thrown overboard, governed by environmental agencies, cruise lines and the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. institution tasked with ensuring safety at sea. As to cremated remains, the urn must be biodegradable; the ship must be 12 nautical miles from shore (in international waters); and the cruise line, if it allows for ash spreading (most do), must be notified ahead of time so it can log the event.
That’s where MFC comes in. The company sells the approved receptacles (the “scallop shell,” in three colors, runs $324.95, while the simpler “locker” — which comes in six shades — is $149.95), makes sure that the ship and itinerary can fulfill the necessary requirements for ash spreading, and liaises with the line on the passengers’ behalf.
MFC has also been thrust into the cruise-selling business. Because the first question usually deals with where someone wants to scatter Uncle Larry’s remains, explains Strudley, MFC determined that it had to offer a full-service option. It does so via an affiliate cruise agent, who can also help arrange commemorative touches onboard, like a post-ceremony repast.
Book a cruise or buy an urn, and the administrative costs — to get the de-ashing ash okayed — are included. Otherwise, it’s $100.
The time of the ceremony depends on where the ship is — again the 12 nautical miles — and weather conditions. Under ideal circumstances, says Strudley, it takes about seven minutes for the urn to sink.
To mark where the urn was released, MFC offers “Virtual Headstones,” clip art flags on a Google world map that pinpoint the location, ship and time of the ceremony. Customers can decide whether or not the name of the newly departed is public or private, and the online entry may include an obituary, poem, picture or video. MFC wants to be seen as totally “above board,” says Strudley, so it is documenting the approved location of the act for everyone to see.
So far, MFC has received a couple of inquiries for cruises. There’s also one pending urn purchase, dependant on whether the associated cruise can fulfill the aforementioned requirements. Still, it’s more than they expected so soon after launch, says Strudley.
MFC’s business model isn’t concerned only with the dead. So far, it’s had the biggest response to its “my final wishes” element, says Strudley. While you’re still alive, you can fill out an online form outlining exactly what you want — your ashes scattered in the Mediterranean, for instance — after you’ve passed on.
With no trailblazers to guide the way, the folks behind MFC have had to “feel their way around a little” and think through “worst- case scenarios” as they attempt to build a solid reputation in a sensitive new industry.
“We don’t want deaths being staged as part of a stag party or something,” explains Sturdley. So the company requires customers to show them a death certificate — even though, of the agencies MFC has dealt with, only the Bermuda Maritime Administration requires one. Strudley says attempts to partner with cruise lines, which they initially pushed for, were unsuccessful. “Because it’s a sad occasion, lines don’t really want to associate with it,” she says. Still, as global environmental agencies tighten policies, she hopes that lines will start referring potential ash spreaders to MFC.
More of a do-it-yourselfer? You can, of course, make all of your own arrangements to spread ashes from a cruise ship. As Cruise Critic member Pam in CA
explains in her first-hand account
, the steps are the same — book a cruise, contact the line, get an approved urn. There’s just no hand holding.