The Principality of Sealand, or How to Start Your Own Country

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The Principality of Sealand is a micronation located on an abandoned World War II fort, in the North Sea 10 km off the coast of Suffolk in England. Sealand is occupied by the family members and associates of a retired British Army major Paddy Roy Bates, who styled himself as “His Royal Highness Prince Roy of Sealand”. The population of Sealand rarely exceeds five, and its inhabitable area is 550 square meters. Although Sealand's claims to sovereignty and legitimacy are not recognized by any country, it is probably the world's best-known micronation, and is sometimes cited in debates as an interesting case study of how various principles of international law can be applied to a territorial dispute.

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In 1943, during the Second World War, the United Kingdom constructed several naval forts named Maunsell Sea Forts to monitor and report German mine-laying aircraft that might be targeting the estuaries that were part of vital shipping lanes. At the time of its construction, the forts were on international waters. The structure consisted of a floating pontoon base with a superstructure of two hollow towers joined by a deck upon which other structures could be added. The facility was called Roughs Tower, and was occupied by 150–300 Royal Navy personnel throughout World War II. After being abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1956, this artificial island on the high seas was occupied by a pirate radio station before Paddy Roy Bates evicted the illegal tenants and became a squatter himself.

Initially, Paddy Roy Bates wanted to set up his own pirate radio station, but when English laws changed making seaborne pirate transmissions illegal even outside of British control, he dropped the idea. Nonetheless, Roy Bates maintained his control of Roughs Tower, and on the advice of his lawyer, declared the old fort a sovereign, independent state, and named it the Principality of Sealand. He designed and raised a new flag, drafted a constitution for Sealand, followed by a national flag, a national anthem, and even currency and passports.

Shortly after declaring Sealand as a sovereign state, he started issuing postage stamps which were used to carry mail between Roughs Tower and Brussels, Belgium. Curiously, a significant volume of mail carrying Sealand stamps and postmarks was accepted without surcharge and passed by Belgian postal authorities into the international postal system.

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Postage Stamps and coins issued by the government of Sealand

Three years later, Sealand minted its first coin in various units of "Sealand Dollar", whose value was at parity with the U.S. dollar. Lacking any real economy, none of them ever made it into circulation. Sealand’s only economy was an offshore Internet hosting facility, started very late in the year 2000, that offered "unparalleled security and independence to users who wish to take advantage of its Internet colocation services." When that collapsed, Sealand began the process of building an online casino which was expected to open by the end of 2012. Sealand also sells titles of nobility including Lord, Baron, Count and Knighthoods via the internet starting from £29.99 a piece.

For a period, a Spanish group started manufacturing a large number of counterfeit Sealand passports and sold them widely to Eastern Europeans. As many as 150,000 passports were in circulation. These passports, which the Bates family say were not authorised by them, were linked to several high-profile crimes. Finally, in 1997 the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports, including those that they themselves had issued in the previous thirty years. Instead, Sealand started taking bookings for tourist visits.

Roy Bates’ government had several confrontation with the British including once when Roy's son Michael Bates fired at a British navy vessel that ventured too close to Sealand’s territory, leading to his arrest. But since the incident occurred outside British territorial waters, no charges could be pursued.

In 1978, while Bates was away, the self proclaimed Prime Minister of Sealand, Alexander G. Achenbach, hired several German and Dutch mercenaries and forcible took over Rough Towers, and held Bates' son hostage. An enraged Roy Bates enlisted armed assistance and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fortress. He then held the invaders captive, claiming them as prisoners of war, before reluctantly setting them free.

Declining health forced Roy Bates to move to mainland Essex, and after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years, he died on October 2012 at the age of 91. Between 2007 and 2010, Sealand was offered for sale at an asking price of $906 million, but found no buyer, although it was reported that the notorious BitTorrent tracker, The Pirate Bay, tried to buy Sealand with the intension of setting up servers so that they could operate in a region which is outside the jurisdiction of any country.

You can checkout Principality of Sealand’s official website where you can read about the micronation’s peculiar history, buy stamps, coins and other merchandise or pamper yourself with the title of a Knight or a Baron.

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Flag and official insignia of Sealand

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Sealand’ Pantry: Rarely was this food eaten, mainly fresh groceries from Tesco online were purchased, delivered to the dock, and taken out to Sealand by boat. Photo credit

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Tachyon satellite dish. This was the initial Internet link for Sealand, but had capacity limits (pay per GB). Later an 802.11b link (and then 4xE1 wireless) link was added to shore. Photo credit

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Sealand's "datacenter". At a later point there were about 10 more machines and a couple Ethernet switches, nothing more. Photo credit

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Prince Roy and his wife Joan. Photo credit

Sources: Wikipedia / Damn Interesting / Wikia

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