In Ostend the Franlis shipping company has been depositing the ashes of the deceased at sea since 1999. This was the year that legislation went on the statutes to stop the practice of scattering ashes at sea. Today a biodegradable urn is lowered into the sea and mourners no longer face being covered in the ashes of their loved ones when a ceremony happens in gusty circumstances. Biodegradable urns can be made from maize or even cardboard. The urn disintegrates within 24 hours allowing the ashes to mingle with the waters of the North Sea.
Two decades ago Franlis performed six such ceremonies in an entire year. Today this number has soared to 400. Ceremonies at sea are cheaper than at the cemetery and are more ecological. Industry insiders also point to people's choice in favour of the infinity of the sea rather than a numbered square at a columbarium.
Depositing the ashes at sea is a maritime tradition that may be accompanied by the lowering of a flag, the blowing of a whistle and the consumption of Dutch vodka.
Relatives are handed a certificate showing the exact location where the deceased's urn was left at sea. In this way the exact spot can be revisited.