Semantics aside (it is considered a principality rather than a country), the micronation of Sealand is located on an old British World War II radar platform. Formerly known as the HM Fort Roughs, a Maunsell Sea Fort constructed by British troops in 1943, Sealand was later occupied by Major Paddy Roy Bates and his family in 1967 as a host to his pirate radio station.
The HM Fort Roughs was originally constructed to protect major shipping lanes for the British during WWII; German mine-laying aircraft were targeting the area and increased radar and defense was needed. A location six miles off the coast of Suffolk was chosen, and once constructed, the station was home to nearly 300 Royal Navy personnel. It wasn’t until 1956 when the last assigned personnel were removed from the station and operations ceased that this story gets interesting.
A man named Roy Bates claims the Fort as his own, names it the Principality of Sealand, and insists that he is the “Prince of Sealand.” Bates introduces a constitution, flag, national anthem, currency, and passports. How does he get away with this? Sealand is six miles off the shore of Britain, which cites its own territorial waters as being only 3 miles offshore (this was later increased to 12 miles in 1987). As such, Sealand was technically in “international” waters and thus had no official governing body.
In 1978 there was a hostage incident on Sealand when a German lawyer named Alexander Achenbach, claiming to be the Prime Minister of Sealand, stormed the sea fort with German and Dutch mercenaries and took Roy Bates’ son Michael hostage. Not long after, Bates was able to retake the tower and captured Achenbach and the mercenaries. Achenbach, a holder of a Sealand passport, was charged with treason by Sealand and was held unless he paid over $35,000 in restitution. The event was important enough to get the German government involved; they had sent a diplomat to Sealand to negotiate a release of Achenbach with Bates. Once freed, Achenbach and his associates returned to Germany and established a “government in exile” of Sealand, still claiming to this day they are the legitimate ruling authority.
Why the demand for a dump of a 70 year-old radar station? The international water rights are key, and it’s the laissez-faire attitude most governments take regarding Sealand that drives its appeal: no established government wants to be bothered with the responsibility of servicing and controlling Sealand. Ergo you have all sorts of interesting individuals looking to circumvent government regulation wanting a piece of the action.
Most recently Sealand was a proposed site for an offshore server farm. The appeal of hosting websites at a location without government regulation shouldn’t be difficult to understand; gambling, pornography, and terrorism would certainly have fewer obstacles to deal with. Copyright and other infringement issues would be hard to enforce. Of course Sealand, operating this idea under the name of HavenCo doesn’t see it that way. HavenCo’s leadership sings the praises of cheaper hosting with less regulatory fees handed down to the customer.
Perhaps even more bizarre is that Sealand has “national” athletes based all over the world. Sealand has a marathon runner based in Canada, a U-20 soccer team in Kentucky, a competition airsoft team based out of Yorkshire, and a Kung Fu specialist that recently won two silver medals at the World Cup of Kung Fu. Sealand has a Destination Imagination team in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a fencing team at UC Irvine, and in 2008 they hosted a Red Bull skateboarding event. If that wasn’t enough, they have founded a football association (aka soccer league). Also in 2008 the Sealand egg throwing team won the world championship (I didn’t know there was one either). Fun fact: not a single athlete competing for Sealand has ever set foot on Sealand, and the current population is estimated to be around 4.
In 2007 the principality was rumored to be for sale for €750 million.
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