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Sealand several months after the devastating fire of 2006.

Sealand several months after the devastating fire of 2006.


The Principality of Sealand is a unique little micronation with a colourful history. Located six miles off the eastern shores of Britain, it is one of four Maunsell Naval Sea Forts deployed by Britain during World War 2. It was originally called Roughs Tower, and was was used to monitor and report German minelaying in the waters off England. During the war, it was home to 150-300 personnel, radar equipment, two 6-inch guns, and two 40mm anti-aircraft autocannons. But after being abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1956, this artificial island on the high seas has been the site of a pirate radio-landing pad, a takeover, a controversial declaration of independence, a coup, and its own miniature war.

In the 1960s, Roy Bates, a former major in the British Army, was among a group of disc jockeys who tried to avoid England?s restrictive broadcasting regulations by setting up pirate radio stations on some of the country?s abandoned offshore outposts, which had been used to fire ground artillery at German aircraft during?World War II.

Bates began broadcasting from one outpost within the three-mile limit of England?s territorial waters, and when he was driven from there in 1966 he planned to start a station at Her Majesty?s Fort Roughs, which was in international waters. Instead, he founded Sealand.

On Sept. 2, 1967, Mr. Bates?declared it an independent nation, himself its royal overseer and his wife, Joan, its princess. Well It was her birthday.

The Principality of Sealand, where dreams ? if not actual physical space ? are in abundance.?Okay, okay. So it?s a man-made floating platform ?pretending? to be a country. But Sealand is more than some nutjob?s flee-the-grid pipe dream. It has everything a young nation requires: a good back-story, international relations, a local economy, a sports legacy, natural disasters and even a couple of sort-of wars.

The ?territory? of Sealand was originally the H.M. Fort Roughs, an offshore naval base deployed in 1943 to protect the port of Harwich, Essex from those nasty Germans. The base saw no significant action, and was abandoned in 1956 when it appeared that no threat was imminent in the waters around England. Ten years later, Fort Roughs found a pair of new tenants.

In 1966, Ronan O?Rahilly operated the pirate radio station known as Radio Caroline, which operated on a ship (the M.V. Caroline, of course) in the waters outside the reach of British law. He and fellow radio radical Paddy Roy Bates decided to lay claim to the H.M. Fort Roughs as a new home base for their broadcast exploits. The base was perfect, as it was close enough to England to offer a substantial listening audience, yet it lay just outside of international waters.

It's off the coast of Essex, located 7.5 miles from Great Britain. The site was previously known as HM Fort Roughs, a military installation built during the Second World War.

It’s off the coast of Essex, located 7.5 miles from Great Britain. The site was previously known as HM Fort Roughs, a military installation built during the Second World War.

After a disagreement between the two men, Roy Bates seized the tower for himself. The recent passing of the Marine Broadcast Offences Act of 1967 meant that a tower such as Fort Roughs could not legally broadcast to the mainland, so the pirate radio dream appeared doomed. Nevertheless, Ronan O?Rahilly attempted to storm the platform and take it back. He was rebuffed by Roy Bates? home-made petrol bombs and Roy?s son Michael, who was firing warning shots at O?Rahilly?s advancing boat.

All of this landed Roy in court with his son, with weapons charges hanging over their heads. Fortunately, the charges were dropped. The tower was beyond British international waters, and therefore out of the court?s jurisdiction. Roy took the dismissal of charges as a sign.

Prior to the invasion attempt, Roy had attempted a diplomatic solution. He had declared the tower to be the independent Principality of Sealand, a delightfully oxymoronic name. When the courts refused to prosecute, Roy took it as an implicit recognition of his independent nation, which of course it was not.

Roy Bates rechristened himself Prince Roy, with his wife taking on the title of Princess Joan. A constitution was drafted in 1974, claiming Sealand to be a constitutional monarchy, with a legal system that follows British common law. Several passports were issued to people who took an interest in the small micronation; stamps, coins, and a national flag were next to follow. Everything was good and official. And then they were invaded.

Sealand Army. In 1987 the United Kingdom extended its territorial waters by 9 miles, and the area now includes Sealand. However, no serious challenge to the micronation's de-facto independence has been posed by London.

Sealand Army. In 1987 the United Kingdom extended its territorial waters by 9 miles, and the area now includes Sealand. However, no serious challenge to the micronation’s de-facto independence has been posed by London.

This is the army that Roy Bates (third from the left) put together in 1978 during Sealand?s greatest crisis. While Prince Roy and Princess Joan were enjoying a pleasant August getaway abroad (in England), a lawyer named Alexander Achenbach ?declared himself to be the rightful Prime Minister of Sealand, and he stormed the platform. He hired a number of German and Dutch mercenaries, who stormed Sealand with jet skis, helicopters, and speedboats, no doubt looking mightily badas as they effortlessly conquered an undefended platform from nobody. Well, almost nobody ? Michael Bates was tending the castle, and he was quickly taken prisoner. Achenbach had plans to build a luxury casino on the platform.

Roy Bates and his makeshift army took back the base and freed his son. Alexander Achenbach was then charged under Sealand law with treason, and was held pending a payment of 75,000 German deutschemarks, or about $35,000 US. The governments of the Netherlands, Austria and Germany all petitioned England for Achenbach?s release, but the British government claimed they had nothing to do with it. Germany sent a diplomat to Sealand, and after a lengthy negotiation, Achenbach was released.

As a result of all this, Roy Bates received more assurance that foreign nations officially recognized his nation?s existence, and Alexander Achenbach, who was really set on taking over, ?set up a government in exile on the mainland. ?Sealand kept moseying along quietly through history. In 1997, Bates revoked all Sealand passports, due to the excessive number of counterfeit ones in circulation. There was an electrical fire in 2006 which sent one person via helicopter to Ipswich Hospital, but the residents were able to rebuild.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Alban Donohoe/REX Shutterstock Security staff relaxing in the lounge of Sealand in the North Sea off Harwich on the coast of Essex. Michael Bates, owner of Sealand in the North Sea off the coast of Essex, Britain - 17 Jan 2007

Photo by Rex.?Security staff relaxing in the lounge of Sealand in the North Sea off Harwich on the coast of Essex.

In 1987, the UK extended the definition of its international waters from three to twelve miles, placing Sealand squarely within British territory. The government refuses to acknowledge Sealand?s nation status, as man-made structures are exempt from island status according to international marine laws. As of this time, there hasn?t really been a conflict arising from this potential collision of sovereignties.

Sealand?s economy is small, but stable. The platform housed a data farm for a few years, and an online casino is reputedly in the works. Tourism is?also encouraged, though there aren?t a lot of rooms (one, I think), but it would be a vacation like none other. Prince Roy Bates tragically passed away in 2012, He had had Alzheimer?s disease for several years, and was 91. Son, Michael continues to rule the nation, albeit from his home in Essex. Make that Prince Michael.

Members of the Bates family still claim dynastic dominion over what they call the Principality of Sealand, a rudimentary platform of concrete and steel rising out of the water seven miles southeast of the main British island. And they are looking to expand the royal family.

Even if you never get the chance to visit ? the trip requires a helicopter ride or a willingness to be hoisted by crane from a boat ? you, too, can join the royal court of one of the world?s most enduring and entrepreneurial micronations.

The?official Sealand Web site?sells titles (the ?Count/Countess Title Pack?: about $320), identity cards, stamps, wristbands and e-mail addresses (just under $10 for six months).

For now, most of Sealand?s trade is driven by Roy Bates?s grandson James, Prince Royal James, who oversees the Sealand Web site.

?The history of Sealand is a story of a struggle for liberty,? the Web site says. ?Sealand was founded on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with the oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation-states may declare independence in any place not claimed to be under the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity.?

Numerous athletes have volunteered to play on behalf of Sealand, and though their unofficial status still can?t get them into any major international leagues or the Olympics, they have a football team, and have participated in a number of other athletic events, like track, fencing, skateboarding and roller derby.

Hell, a mountaineer with the awesome name of Kenton Cool even planted a Sealand flag at the summit of Mount Everest last month.

If that ain?t a real nation, I don?t know what is.

Roy Bates was not just a self-made prince, he was a self-made man. After the war, he imported beef and ran butcher shops. He built fishing boats in Essex, and some family members still fish commercially for cockles, mussels, oysters and other seafood. None of the Bateses live on Sealand, though they do visit and provide upkeep. A caretaker usually occupies the place, which includes modest living quarters, a kitchen, a chapel and an exercise area. Sealand was abandoned briefly after a fire in 2006 but later repaired.

Michael Bates has said in recent years that the family would consider selling the place, or, given the complications of selling a supposedly sovereign nation, leasing it, but he said that no sale was planned. He expects his descendants to preside over Sealand for many generations to come.

?The family,? he said, ?plans to continue the legacy.?



Principality of Sealand