Corona delays the repatriation of the deceased

Grounded airplanes and stringent health restrictions have led to an unintended consequence of the corona crisis: The repatriation of Nordic citizens who died during travel abroad has become complicated.


At the end of May, alarm centre staff at SOS International are working to repatriate approximate 30 deceased persons from all over the world to one of the Nordic countries.

Organising the repatriation of a deceased person is never a straightforward operation. However, the corona pandemic has further complicated the task and this means that having a coffin or urn brought back to Scandinavia may be subject to several weeks’ waiting time. The SOS International alarm centre is working flat out to bring home coffins and urns notwithstanding the very few departures.

- Our work is a balancing act of, one the one hand, fulfilling the wishes of the relatives and, on the other, acting within the current reality, says Karin Tranberg, Executive VP, Medical Division, SOS International.

The longer waiting time is partly caused by the fact that there are very few departures and partly due to the fact that finding room on the departures that actually occur is very difficult. Additionally, however, novel corona has caused many countries to tighten the requirements for the handling of coffins and urns.

Specific rules relating to cremation
In cases where the death involved Covid-19, in a number of countries, embalming the body and repatriating it in a coffin is not an option. By way of example, in Spain, Vietnam, France and all of Latin America, it is a requirement that the deceased be either cremated or buried locally. In other countries, however – e.g. Turkey and Greece – cremation is not permitted.

For these reasons, it is sometimes impossible to meet the wishes of the deceased and the relatives:

- On top of the grief following a death, it can be difficult for the relatives to deal with the fact that their wish to have the deceased repatriated in a coffin cannot be fulfilled. However, we are subject to the rules and regulations of the countries in question, says Karin Tranberg.

SOS International has a good global network of funeral directors with whom the assistance organisation works closely to handle the transport of the deceased in the best possible manner. In certain circumstances, such as the present, this collaboration really proves its worth:

- We have, by way of example, arranged the transport of a deceased person from Turkey to London where a funeral director in our network was able to assist in the cremation and storage of the ashes until the urn can be transported by plane to Norway, says Karin Tranberg.

SOS International handles approximately 500 ”coffin transports” every year. Cases involving Nordic travellers who died abroad and need repatriation in a coffin or an urn. 

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