When I wrote my article on what constitutes a country, there was the usual outcry of arguments and, at times, nonsense from the usual quarters. My favourite of these was the 193 UN club, who believe that Switzerland wasn’t a real country until 1994 and that going to the Cayman Islands is much the same as visiting Skegness. On the other end of the spectrum you have the 100 club, who claim that pretty much everything in the world is its own state. In the middle you have my YPT list, with the two most controversial inclusions being the Hutt River Principality and the Principality of Sealand.
So what is Sealand? Where is Sealand? And IS Sealand a real country? Today we reveal the story of the big kahuna of Micronations, the king of the crop: Sealand. Every country – micro or macro – has a backstory and, more often than not, a founder. For the Principality of Sealand – more commonly known as Sealand – that “father of the nation” was Paddy Roy Bates, more commonly known as Roy, or in later life Prince Roy. Paddy Roy Bates had a penchant for pirate radio, which in the 60’s was quite a big deal. In 1967 he occupied an old World War 2 fort called Roughs Tower, moved in, and pretty much declared it a country. Following so far?
Birth of a (micro)nation: the Principality of Sealand
During the war the French Channel was obviously a fairly important bit of water, and many a tower was built to aid our war against Ze Germans. But at that point British and French claims on their water boundaries meant that many of these forts, such as Roughs Towers, were considered to be in “international waters”.
This being the case, Bates founded the Principality of Sealand in 1967. And as it was 1967, Al Gore had not yet invented the internet as a way for Mark Zuckerberg to steal people’s ideas and influence elections. Alas, hardly anyone new about the birth of the nation. That was soon to change.
In 1968 a British boat got what the prince felt was too close to his nation, and two warning shots were fired. As Prince Roy was a British citizen, and because they were a bit tetchy about people taking potshots at their ships, he thus ended up in court. However, as the fort was outside British territorial waters the court could not rule on things. Sealand 1, England 0. Whilst not exactly a seat in the UN, this offered some kind of recognition.
Despite having some limited recognition now, thing slowed on Sealand until 1975, when the micronation developed a constitution, flag, currency, and (in what was to prove a controversial move) passports.
Recognition of Sealand, hostages, and the government in exile
Things started to take a further turn for the weird in 1978, when Sealand again got some form of recognition. In August of that year Alexander Achenbach, who described himself as the Prime Minister of Sealand, hired several German and Dutch guns for hire and tried to take over Sealand by force, and by force we mean jet-skis, boats, and even a helicopter. These guys were not messing around. Not only did they take the platform, but they also took Prince Roy’s son hostage. Whatever your nationality, you do not mess with people’s kids. Prince Roy got even more weapons and retook the island. He was, understandably, somewhat pissed with Mr Achenbach, who now found himself being held for the ransom of around $32,000. The governments of Austria, Germany, and Holland petitioned the government of the UK to help end the standoff, to which the UK replied “not our problem”. After a few weeks of negotiations between Sealand and German diplomats, Bates finally relented and let the prisoners go. Prince Roy naturally considered the negotiations as recognition of Sealand’s statehood from Germany. So when the question, “does any country recognize Sealand?” come up, the answer is complex. But it could be argued that there has been de facto recognition from both Germany and the UK.
Oh and as for Alexander Achenbach: he’s still an idiot, and runs the government-in-exile of Sealand.
In 1997 Prince Roy had to revoke the 15,000 passports the country had given out. Why? If you can believe it, some were not used for legitimate purposes. For the next ten years the country experimented with different ways of making money through its “offshore” status, and was even up for sale for a long time. In 2012 Prince Roy died a legend at the age of 91 and was succeeded by his son, Prince Michael.
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince?
This decade has seen Sealand selling titles, making sports teams, experimenting with tourism (I’m still desperate to do a tour here) and continuing to make its case for being a genuine state.
If only there were more towers like this to claim. Alas there are not; and so our dream of founding our own nation continues with our project to buy an island.