In Brief

Why funeral urns are washing up on Dutch beaches

Mystery as human ashes from Germany land up 500 miles away

The discovery of three funeral urns full of human ashes on beaches in the Netherlands has prompted a public apology by a Dutch shipping company.

The containers all washed up separately on shores in the neighbouring western coastal towns Katwijk and Noordwijk over the past week, sparking “fevered speculation about how they got there”, reports The Guardian.

The metal urn lids were stamped with the dates of birth, death and cremation of the deceased, and marked “for collection” from a crematorium in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, northern Germany – nearly 500 miles away, says German newspaper Deutsche Welle.

All three were found by local people, including 14-year-old Maarten van Duijn and his father. The schoolboy told reporters: “We checked it out, because we thought it could have been a disguise for something else, drugs for example.” 

The discovery that the urns really did hold human ashes triggered a statement from the Stralsund public prosecutor’s office, which covers the Greifswald area, saying that a formal investigation might be launched.

However, shipping firm Trip Scheepvaart yesterday admitted responsibility for the incident, telling Germany’s DPA news agency that the urns had “slipped from an employee’s hands over the railing” of one of its vessels ahead of a planned mass marine funeral.

“The incident is very unpleasant for us,” said company spokesperson Silvia Roos, who added that the firm was considering how to apologise to the relatives of the deceased.

Roos added that the contents of two of the three urns have now been scattered at sea, with plans to do the same with the third shortly.

Germany has “some of the strictest rules in Europe for the disposal of human ashes”, including burials at sea, prompting “initial confusion about how the urns made their way to the Netherlands”, reports the BBC.

In most German states it is illegal to keep, bury or scatter human ashes outside of a cemetery, and ashes intended for sea burials must be put in an urn that is biodegradable - which the metal ones found in the Netherlands do not appear to have been. 

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