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Unclaimed human remains in San Francisco honored with monthly ceremony at sea

Cremated remains of unclaimed San Franciscans scattered at Kirby Cove
Cremated remains of unclaimed San Franciscans scattered at Kirby Cove 02:45

Every month, a boat sails from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge with a lifetime of precious cargo.

The cargo is the remains of San Francisco's unclaimed bodies. And the boat provides transport to their burial at sea.

Reuben Houston the owner of Colma Cremation and Funeral Services does his best to honor them.

"Today we are scattering those individuals who have passed away in the city and county of San Francisco," said Houston. "These individuals have been unclaimed."

Reuben is contracted by the city to cremate the bodies while the Office of the Public Administrator searches for their next of kin.

All of them are San Franciscans. By law, the city has to wait a year and one month for someone to claim them. If no one collects the remains, they are included in a monthly celebration of life at sea.

"This is the spot right here, called Kirby Cove," said the boat's captain.

That's where the ashes are unsealed and the celebration of life begins. Houston scatters flower petals into the water as he spreads ashes at sea to give them dignity in death.

"We are not contaminating water," said Houston. "Some of these individuals will be traveling far away. Maybe some of the individuals wanted to travel to Hawaii. Well, the cremains will probably travel a distance. That is the blessed hope. I have been a funeral director for a long time and it means a lot. We are the voices of those unclaimed. Everyone deserves the proper disposition."

Some of the unclaimed are as young as 23 and as old as 82. The burial at sea gives the proper closure to a life honored and never forgotten.

To contact the medical examiner's office to inquire about a decedent in San Francisco, parties should call 415-641-3600 or email            

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