The Principality of Sealand is an unrecognized micronation, located on HM Fort Roughs, a former World War II Maunsell Sea Fort in the North Sea 10 km (six miles) off the coast of Suffolk, England. Since 1967, the facility has been occupied by the former British Major Paddy Roy Bates; his associates and family claim that it is an independent sovereign state.
While it has been described as the world’s smallest nation, or a micronation, Sealand is not currently officially recognized by any established sovereign state. Although Roy Bates claims it is de facto recognized by Germany as they have sent a diplomat to the micronation, and by the UK after an English court ruled it did not have jurisdiction over Sealand, neither action constitutes de jure recognition as far as the respective countries are concerned.
In 1943, during World War II, HM Fort Roughs was constructed by the United Kingdom as one of the Maunsell Forts, primarily for defence against German mine-laying aircraft that might be targeting the estuaries that were part of vital shipping lanes; it comprised a floating pontoon base with a superstructure of two hollow towers joined by a deck upon which other structures could be added. The fort was towed to a position above the Rough Sands sandbar, where its base was deliberately flooded to allow it to sink to its final resting place on the sandbar. The location chosen was approximately six miles from the coast of Suffolk, outside the then three-mile territorial water claim of the United Kingdom and therefore in international waters. The facility (called Roughs Tower or HM Fort Roughs) was occupied by 150–300 Royal Navy personnel throughout World War II; not until well after the war, in 1956, were the last full-time personnel taken off HM Fort Roughs.
In 1967, the fort was occupied by Major Paddy Roy Bates, a British subject and pirate radio broadcaster, who ejected a competing group of pirate broadcasters. Bates intended to broadcast his pirate radio station ‘Radio Essex’ from the platform. In 1968, British workmen entered what Bates claimed to be his territorial waters in order to service a navigational buoy near the platform. Michael Bates (son of Paddy Roy Bates) tried to scare the workmen off by firing warning shots from the former fort. As Bates was a British subject at the time, he was summoned to court in England on firearms charges following the incident. But the court ruled that as the platform (which Bates was now calling ‘Sealand’) was outside British jurisdiction, being beyond the then three-mile limit of the country’s waters, the case could not proceed. In 1975, Bates introduced a constitution for Sealand, followed by a flag, a national anthem, a currency and passports.
In 1978, while Bates and his wife were in England, Alexander Achenbach, who describes himself as the Prime Minister of Sealand, hired several German and Dutch mercenaries to spearhead an attack of Roughs Tower. They stormed the tower with speedboats and helicopters, and took Bates’ son hostage. Bates was able to retake the tower and capture Achenbach and the mercenaries. Achenbach, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held unless he paid DM 75,000 (more than US$ 35,000 or £23,000). The governments of the Netherlands, Austria and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed his imprisonment, citing the 1968 court decision. Germany then sent a diplomat from its London embassy to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Achenbach’s release. Roy Bates relented after several weeks of negotiations and subsequently claimed that the diplomat’s visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.
Following his repatriation, Achenbach and Gernot Pütz established a ‘government in exile,’ sometimes known as the Sealand Rebel Government, or Sealandic Rebel Government. In Germany, Aschenbach’s appointed successor, Johannes Seiger, continues to claim via his website that he is Sealand’s legitimate ruling authority.
In 1997, due to a massive number of illegal passports in circulation (estimated at 150,000), the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports, including those that they themselves had issued over the previous twenty-two years. In 2006, the top platform of the Roughs Tower caught fire due to an electrical failure. A Royal Air Force rescue helicopter transferred one person to Ipswich hospital, directly from the tower. The Harwich lifeboat stood by the Roughs Tower until a local fire tug extinguished the fire. All damage was repaired. In 2007, The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing website, attempted to buy Sealand after harsher copyright measures in Sweden forced them to look for a base of operations elsewhere. The deal fell through. In 2010, Sealand was offered for sale through a Spanish estate company. Since a principality cannot technically be sold, Sealand’s current owners plan to transfer ‘custodianship.’ The asking price was €750 million (£600 million, US$906 million). Sealand online Casino is expected to be opened by late 2012.