Challenges in managing the repatriation of mortal remains are always dependent on the circumstances of death, and the location of death. In some instances, the repatriation process can be relatively straightforward, with minimal challenges and quick timelines – while others may involve complex logistics and international documentation to achieve the end result.
Rowland Brothers International (RBI) was contacted recently to arrange a repatriation from Diego Garcia – an island located in the middle of the Indian Ocean – to the west coast of the US. In addition to repatriation arrangements, we were asked if we could also arrange for an autopsy and embalming to take place prior to final entry into the US.
These types of requests and remote locations are always a challenge, and involve careful planning of logistics to ensure repatriation takes place smoothly. Additionally, the most direct option may not always be the best option, due to legislation and diplomatic arrangements.
Following the request, our team was immediately in contact with our overseas funeral agents to assist with this repatriation – for many, Diego Garcia fell outside their jurisdiction. Since an autopsy was also required, it was important for the initial repatriation to take place to the most appropriate country that could effectively and efficiently carry out such a request. RBI opted for repatriation from Diego Garcia to South Africa, where autopsy and embalming could be done prior to onward repatriation to the US.
Acquiring the necessary legal documentation was challenging, as permission was required to repatriate out of Diego Garcia – as was entry and exit documentation into and out of South Africa and, finally, entry documentation for the final repatriation into the US.
The repatriation itself also involved obtaining special permission from the authorities for a private charter flight to enter, land and then exit Diego Garcia and fly the mortal remains to South Africa, as well as special permissions for the crew on board the flight. The route also required landing permissions to stop and refuel en route back to South Africa.
Once in South Africa, the autopsy and embalming were completed, and the necessary exit documentation required for export from South Africa and the necessary permission documentation for entry to the US were organised.
The mission was a total success, and the family were extremely pleased with all of the arrangements made and the repatriation of their loved one back to the US.