Assume that a passenger on a cruise ship has something like a heart attack and it's quite clear that they're dead (any attempts at reanimation failed for a reasonable amount of time). Assume the ship is either docked at a harbor or will reach a harbor within a few days.
The harbor is not in the country where the trip started or will end.
If it's important to limit the scope of the question: assume the trip started in an EU country and the ship is currently outside of EU territory.
What happens to the body?

Will the body be buried in the foreign country or will it be transported back to the home country?
Will the ship itself transport the body?

The reason I ask is that I once read that cruise ships must be equipped with a morgue for at least 2 bodies, and when I was on a cruise ship I noticed that a large number of passengers were elderly and there were several medical emergencies during the trip. Let's say it got me wondering...

I also read What happens when you die while traveling internationally? but it only deals with policies of countries. As far as I know a passenger on a cruise ship (even one docked at harbor) is still in international waters and technically only enters a country when they leave the ship or even cross a certain line in the harbor.

  • I doubt that it will make much different if you die on a cruise ship, but if it does, it will be up to the cruise operator to decide what to do. I can't image that cruise ships are equipped to keep dead bodies for a very long time and that in most cases, deceased passengers are unloaded at the first harbour where it is practically feasible. What happens after that will probably be the same as if you had died on land at the same location. Jun 12, 2023 at 12:06
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    The disposition of the body is generally decided by the deceased's next of kin, taking into account the costs of transportation. If there is any provision for this situation in the contract between the carrier and the passenger, that will also be taken into account. You might want to consider narrowing the question and asking at Law. A cruise ship docked in a harbor, however, is most definitely not in international waters; it is in territorial waters (which extend some distance from land, usually 12 miles or halfway to another country's land, which ever is shorter).
    – phoog
    Jun 12, 2023 at 12:21
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    "only enters a country when they leave the ship or even cross a certain line in the harbor" this is typically true for immigration purposes or customs purposes or both, but only for those purposes. Any crimes committed, any civil event such as a marriage, birth, or death, and anything else will fall under local law.
    – phoog
    Jun 12, 2023 at 12:28
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    Assuming you have travel insurance, it typically covers all costs for repatriation of your remains (UK page). Exactly what the cruise liner does is a separate question but I would expect them to unload soon as possible, as already mentioned. If you don't have travel insurance, your remains may be stuck in some foreign morgue, and ultimately in extreme circumstances most nations have procedures for an unclaimed corpse. But the cruise firm itself won't bury you (although they may provide some assistance).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 12, 2023 at 14:07
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    Note that even if you die in a given country while on shore (including in circumstances completely different from those of a cruise) the body will not necessarily be buried in that country, it can be brought back “home” to be buried there, though this may involve quite a bit of paperwork and costs (even on land moving a body from one country to another can be a challenge — it used to be the case in France that even moving a body from one “département” to the next involved paperwork, don’t know if it’s still the case). Better have good insurance to cover that.
    – jcaron
    Jun 12, 2023 at 22:41

1 Answer 1


Cruise ships have an onboard Morgue, that's the answer to the title. But you already knew that!

If you then zoom into the 'What happens to the body?' question. This depends on the decisions made by the Deceased's family in cooperation with the cruise crew.

You (in cooperation with the cruise crew) need to contact a (local, if possible) funeral provider at the first harbor or port you arrive at. Then transport of the body starts, which can be very costly.

You'll probably need to contact a funeral director or a specialized transport company as without experts; you won't get far without expertise here. You might even need to work with 'two' funeral providers.

Not a single person will be buried without consent and communication with the deceased's family.

Source: https://www.funeralwise.com/2019/01/16/shipping-a-dead-body-10-things-you-need-to-know/

  • what happens would also depend on the law of the country the ship is operating under, and possibly that of the country it is currently residing in. This is especially relevant for filling out death certificates, establishing cause of death, and releasing the body for disposal (read, burial, cremation, etc.). E.g. in the Netherlands the death certificate MUST be signed by a qualified physician and if one weren't present at time of death a police investigation may be required). The body cannot be released to the next of kin before that process has been completed.
    – jwenting
    Jun 15, 2023 at 8:32

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