In the event of a death at sea

By Philip H. DeTurk
This item appears on page 34 of the August 2019 issue.

As I began preparing for an 80-day cruise around South America that was scheduled to start on Jan. 4, 2019, I became interested in what would happen to my remains should I not succeed in finishing the journey. (86 at the time, I turned 87 this May.)

Where would my cadaver go? Who would pay to ship it home or for cremation? What problems would there be for my children, since I have no significant other?

My research soon advised me that Holland America Line, or HAL (855/932-1711,, offers an insurance policy that covers most of the problems regarding a passenger’s death on the high seas. Most cruise lines may have something similar.

There are other plans, but the one HAL uses, HAL CPP Platinum Protection, is underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and administrated by Aon Affinity. It covers not only medical expenses up to $10,000 but emergency-medical evacuation and repatriation costs up to $50,000.

Repatriation, at least in its present configuration, was a new word to me. I learned that after one’s death, the body or the remains (the cost of cremation is included in the policy) are usually repatriated to the country from which that person left on the trip.

So under this plan, and for a fairly significant sum, an individual can cancel the trip up until the start of sailing, without any reason whatsoever, and be reimbursed 90% of the prepaid, nonrefundable trip cost, and he also is covered for most medical and dental expenses, up to the maximum, as well as for those dreaded death charges.

For questions on the policy, you can call AON Affinity (800/453-4047), but for the price on your own policy (which depends on what state you live in) and to purchase the insurance, you need to call HAL or a travel agent.

Other insurance policies can be scrutinized and compared at Aardvark Compare Travel Insurance Marketplace (, under the auspices of Jonathan Breeze.

What happens when you pass away while at sea? The ship does not deviate from its planned next port. Instead, the cadaver is secured in a space allocated for such a purpose on board, and it is removed in the next port that has a facility large enough to take care of the body. At that time, the remains are in the hands of that country’s authorities.

It is possible that the deceased’s survivors may wish to dedicate their loved one’s body to science. A university in the country where the disposal is being handled could be contacted to determine if it is willing to take the body for medical purposes.

I wondered if kin must travel to the country in question to assist with such doings. It would appear that, with insurance in place, arrangements could be handled from afar.

Is this truly important information? As one wag said, “It only happens once in a lifetime,” so it may not be. But some situations can be foreseen, and travel insurance may make it possible to resolve some of the problems with a minimum of red tape.

To learn how it was handled in one case a decade ago, search online for the article “Death At Sea,” by Wayne Anderson, in the July/August 2009 issue of Cruise Travel magazine.

Another article, by the widow of a man who suddenly died while they were visiting France, was printed in ITN: “Coping with the Red Tape of an Overseas Death,” by Betty Patterson (Feb. ’05, pg. 16).

ITN also covered some of this subject matter in readers’ letters under the title “What to Do in the Event of a Death Abroad” (May ’16, pg. 39) and in Nancy J. Norberg’s letter “Keeps Documents on Netbook” (Oct. ’16, pg. 46), the latter emphasizing the importance of traveling with copies of documents, such as one’s living will, marriage certificate and a durable power of attorney for financial decisions as well as for health care.

As I set forth on my hoped-for 80-day trip, I did so knowing that the insurance I’d purchased would assist my children in resolving the disposal of my body should I not have fulfilled the planned itinerary.

I have taken many trips around the world and have purchased insurance only once before. This, then, was almost a unique experience for me. One thing is true of all insurance we buy: we hope it will never be used, and on this cruise it was not.

Pinehurst, NC