HP037: Sealand

HP037: Sealand

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation (a self-declared, unrecognised state-like entity) located in the North Sea six miles (10 km) off the coast of Essex, United Kingdom.

Coordinates for Sealand:
51° 53’40 N, 1° 28’57 E

Related Links:

Related Books:

Hello and welcome to another episode of HistoryPodcast. For all of those just joining us and to jog the memory of long time listeners, my name is Jason Watts and I like history. I really like it. The only problem is I don’t know Jack about it. That is why I started this podcast. I want to learn more about history and I enjoy researching history topics. I podcast them because I figured that there may be other people like me who want to learn more about history.

I think history can be boring, but I also think that there are thousands of things that have happened that are very interesting and worth talking about. The most important part of this podcast is you, the listener. I want this podcast to form a community of people interested in history. To that end I have a website which list related sites, books and anything else I think is pertinent to the episode. If a episode interest you and you want to learn more please visit the website there is a lot of information there. Also, there are forms where you can read what other listeners have to say and post your own comments. Lastly, again, driving home my point this is your podcast! Please email me and let me know what you would like me to do a show on, or better yet email in your own show just like Tom and Christy have done.

The website is located at historypodcast.blogspot.com and my email address is historypodcast@gmail.com. Please email me with feedback, questions or comments. I would also like to mention that I do not have a formal background in history other than a few general education classes in college. I am an avid reader and do research on a lot of historical topics, but this in no way qualifies me to be an expert, so from time to time you will hear me make mistakes and mispronunciations. Please bear with me I am learning as we go along. Sorry for the long introduction today. Lets get to the history!

A big thank you to Tim for recommending this topic for an episode on historypodcast. As I read “sealand” as a suggestion for a topic, I thought Tim had made a typo or he was asking for the history of some kind of denture adhesive. Of course, I was wrong and Tim was asking about the Principality of Sealand.

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation. Whats a micronation? A micronation is a self-declared but unrecognized state-like entity. Basically, for the purpose of this topic it is a made up state or country. Roughs Tower is a former Maunsell Sea Fort located in the North Sea six miles off the coast of Essex, United Kingdom. Exact coordinates can be found on the website. I checked with google maps and it doesn’t show up, too small. Same situation with Google Earth.

Sealand is occupied by the Paddy Roy Bates family. The population of the facility rarely exceeds five, and its living area is 5,920 square feet. Although it claims to sovereignty and legitimacy it is not recognized by any traditional States, it is nevertheless sometimes cited in debates as an interesting case study of how various principles of international law can be applied to a disputed territory. There is even a book on the subject that discusses Sealand called How to Start Your Own Country by Edwin S. Strauss. See the website for a link.

On February 8th, 1942 HM Fort Roughs was commissioned by the UK. Its purpose was to protect against aerial attacks from Germany. 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 Rough Sands sandbar where its base was intentionally flooded so that it sank to a resting place on the sandbar. The location chosen was in international waters, outside the then three-mile territorial water claim of the United Kingdom. Throughout the war it was occupied by 150-300 Royal Navy personnel; however, after the war all personnel was evacuated and HMS Fort Roughs was abandoned.

In the 60’s these Maunsells, which look like very small oil rigs, were used often for pirate radio stations. On September 2, 1967, the fort was occupied by Paddy Roy Bates, a British subject and pirate-radio broadcaster, who ejected a competing group of pirate broadcasters and claimed sovereignty on the basis of his interpretation of international law.

In 1968, Roy’s son Michael Bates was summoned to court as a result of an incident during which shots were fired at a British navy vessel in the vicinity of Sealand. According to some reports the vessel’s occupants were intending to evict Bates from the fortress, while others state that they were simply attempting to repair a nearby navigation buoy. In yet another I found that the British officers were making lewd comments toward a nude sunbather and this set Michael Bates off.

In delivering its decision on November 25, 1968, the court stated that because the incident occurred outside British territorial waters, the court possessed no jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

In 1978, while Bates was away, the Prime Minister he had appointed, Alexander G. Achenbach, and several German and Dutch citizens staged a forcible takeover of Roughs Tower, holding Bates’ son Michael captive, before releasing him several days later in the Netherlands.

Bates then enlisted armed assistance and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fortress. He then held the invaders captive, claiming them as prisoners of war. Most participants in the invasion were returned at the end of the so called war, but Gernot Pütz, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held for 75,000 DM ($46,000 USD). The governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed all responsibility, citing the 1968 court decision.

Germany then sent a diplomat from its London embassy to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Pütz’s release, and after several weeks Roy Bates relented, subsequently claiming that the diplomat’s visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany. Germany has not commented on this interpretation.

Following his return, Achenbach established an “exile government” in Germany, in opposition to Roy Bates, assuming the title of “Chairman of the Privy Council”. Upon Achenbach’s resignation for health reasons in August 1989, the rebel government’s “Minister for Economic Co-operation”, Johannes Seiger, assumed control, with the position of “Prime Minister and Chairman of the Privy Council”. Seiger continues to claim that he is Sealand’s legitimate ruling authority.

Sealand claims the waters surrounding Roughs Tower to the extent of twelve nautical miles, and it has claimed to have physically defended this claim on at least one occasion. In an incident in 1990, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary vessel Golden Eye was fired upon from Sealand.

For a period, Sealand passports were mass-manufactured and sold widely by a Spanish-based group believed to be associated with the exile government under Seiger. These passports, which were not authorized by the Bates family, were involved in several high-profile crimes, including the murder of Gianni Versace. Due to the massive quantity in circulation, an estimated 150,000, in 1997 the Bates family revoked all of the Sealand passports that they themselves had issued in the previous thirty years.

Sealand’s claim that it is an independent state is founded on the following two propositions:

1.When Paddy Roy Bates and his associates occupied Roughs Tower in 1967 it was located in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and all other sovereign states. Sealand claims legitimacy on this basis.

2.The interactions of the UK government and of other governments – specifically the government of Germany – with Sealand constitute de facto recognition. Sealand claims de facto legitimacy on this basis.

Since the 1968 UK court decision, the United Kingdom has extended its territorial sea to twelve nautical miles, which it had the legal right to do under international law since 1958. These and subsequent laws have dealt with the construction and legal position of artificial islands. However, as Roughs Tower is actually a sunken ship, it is not covered by these rulings.

According to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, there is no transitional law and no possibility to consent to the existence of a construction, which was previously approved or built by a neighboring state. This means that artificial islands may no longer be constructed and then claimed as sovereign states, or as state territories, for the purposes of extension of an exclusive economic zone or of territorial waters. However, since Roughs Tower is not an artificial island but a sunken ship, it would be necessary for Her Majesty’s Crown Estate (which owns the land itself under the tower) to act as the complainant landlord in order to get the wreck removed from its property.

Although the UK has publicly asserted its authority over Roughs Tower, it appears to be government policy to refrain from comment or action except when forced. British Government documents, now available to the public under the 30 year expiry of confidentiality, show that the UK drafted plans to take the tower by force, but such plans were not implemented by the then Prime Minister due to the potential for loss of life, and the creation of a legal and public relations disaster.

According to the Wikipedia entry:

A report in the Times on December 6, 2005 claimed that the British government and courts finally admitted that Sealand “is outside British national territory […] and not part of the United Kingdom.”

Irrespective of its legal status, Sealand is managed by the Bates family as though it were a recognized sovereign entity, and they its hereditary royal rulers.

Roy and Joan Bates have been referred to internally since the foundation of Sealand as “Their Royal Highnesses Prince Roy and Princess Joan of Sealand”. Roy Bates is styled “Sovereign”, and Joan Bates is sometimes described as being “in joint rule” with him. Their son is known as “His Royal Highness Prince Michael”. Michael Bates has been referred to as the “Prince Regent” since 1999. In this role he apparently serves as Sealand’s acting “Head of State” and also its “Head of Government”. At a micronations conference hosted by the University of Sunderland on November 25, 2004, Sealand was represented by Michael Bates’ son James, who was referred to as “Prince Royal James”.

Sealand’s royals are all believed to retain UK citizenship, and the family has not been in permanent residence on the Roughs Tower facility since 1999. The facility is now occupied by one or more caretakers representing Michael Bates, who himself lives in Leigh on Sea, England. As Sealand is not a recognized country, the Bates family officially travel internationally as British subjects.

Sealand possesses a simple constitution, instituted in 1995, which consists of a preamble and seven articles.

In the year 2000 worldwide publicity was created about Sealand due to the establishment of a new entity called HavenCo, a data haven, which effectively took control of Roughs Tower itself. According to the Sealand official website, no other visitors or activities would be permitted. The original claim to the right to occupy Roughs Tower was maintained by Michael Bates, whose father Roy has removed himself to a great extent from further daily involvement.

Sealand’s legal system is claimed to follow British common law, and statutes take the form of Decrees enacted by the Sovereign.

HavenCo Limited is a data hosting services company founded in 2000 which operates from Sealand. It was registered by Michael Bates through Companies House, a part of the UK Department of Trade and Industry, on August 22, 2000. The directors were listed as Michael Roy Bates, who was named Chief Operating Officer, and Ryan Donald Lackey, a US citizen. Other founders included Sean and Jo Hastings and Avi Freedman. The company later relocated its registration to Cyprus.

HavenCo initially received broad coverage in the international media, appearing on the cover of Wired magazine, in over 200 other articles and in several television reports. In these reports, HavenCo claimed to have established a secure colocation facility on Sealand, and that it had commenced operations as a data haven. Detractors claim that these reports gave the impression that HavenCo was registered on Sealand itself, and that the company would issue domain names under the authority of that entity, when in fact it had no entitlement to do so.

The company announced that it had become operational in December 2000, and that its acceptable use policy prohibited child pornography, spamming, and malicious hacking, but that all other content was acceptable. It claimed that it had no restrictions on copyright or intellectual property for data hosted on its servers, arguing that as Sealand was not a member of the World Trade Organization, international intellectual property law did not apply. Other services available from HavenCo at the time included IT consulting, systems administration, offshore software development, and electronic mail services.

***Following the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, Lackey announced that the operation would block initiatives “contrary to international custom and practice.” HavenCo claimed that it had experienced few difficulties with any foreign government or organisation, although according to detractors, the British government “reacted quietly” by enforcing British laws concerning unlicensed data transmissions to and from Sealand, although it is unclear what is meant by this, and no evidence has been produced in support of these claims.

Ryan Lackey left HavenCo under bad circumstances in 2001, citing disagreements with the Bates family over management of the company. HavenCo itself is still in operation, but handled through the Sealand Web reseller company. “Havenco has been going through some changes and now have a reseller company that is taking over end user sales and support issues. The service will still be supplied by Havenco, just managed and paid for through the reseller company Sealandweb.”

Sealand first issued postage stamps in 1969, when a helicopter service was instituted to carry mail between Roughs Tower and Brussels, Belgium. 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 at this time, which seems to indicate that a formal arrangement of some sort existed between them and Sealand.

Although few stamp issues have been made since early 1970s, Sealand postage stamps and postal cancellations continue to be used on most if not all mail from the principality, although the actual volume of such mail is believed to be limited.

The official policy of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail is to stamp envelopes not bearing UK stamps with a ‘revenue protection’ cancellation, meaning that postal carriage charges may be claimed from the recipient – although recent examples exist of mail bearing Sealand stamps and cancellations, to the exclusion of all others, being transmitted through the international postal system.

Sealand is not a member of the Universal Postal Union, which regulates the sending of mail between countries, and its address is in what it claims is a foreign country. The address publicised by Sealand as its postal address is: ‘Sealand 1001; Sealand Post Bag, UK’. The Royal Mail postcode is the one for Felixstowe near Ipswich, and the Royal Mail website gives the following standardised address: ‘Sealand Fort, PO Box 3, FELIXSTOWE, UK’.

Sealand has declared its currency to be the “Sealand Dollar”, which it deems to be at parity with the U.S. dollar. Several dozen different coins have been minted since 1972 in various units of this currency. Given Sealand’s limited population, physical inaccessibility and lack of a real economy it is unlikely that these coins were ever intended for use as circulating currency. Most were produced in precious metals, which have appeal to investors and coin collectors. In the early 1990s, Achenbach’s German group also produced a coin, featuring a likeness of Prime Minister Seiger.

Sealand may soon have some new neighbors – several offshore wind farms are proposed to be built nearby. It is thought that any such developments would not require the British government to interact with Sealand in any fashion, however there may be scope for challenges over usage of sea rights over the different claims of UK and Sealand territorial waters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *