Hello, my name is Zeev Clement. I am potentially going to be serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy. I have been reading that there are requests by Jewish Seamen to be buried at sea. This request has been granted by Reform Jewish Chaplains in the past. I would like to know if there is any source in Halacha that would allow for a burial at sea. Of course, the traditional Navy policy of cremation before is not permitted. Is there any permitted form, and if there is, what is the prescribed manner it should be done? Thank you for your time.
A number of sources indicate that burial in the sea is not considered burial. See Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (Chap. 39) concerning the Egyptians in the sea, and Yerushalmi (Shabbos 19b) concerning drowning. The idea of burial is that the person is interned on land, where the dead will someday be resurrected, and the bottom of the sea does not qualify.
Therefore, if at all possible, the Chaplain should encourage Jewish seamen to be buried on land. This is certainly in their benefit, in having a halachic burial, and also in having a memory after their death, and in others being able to honor them by visiting the grave.
Good luck for the demanding job!