10 January 2011

The Principality of Sealand

By Guest Blogger Dan Lewis
Editor of Now I Know
Dan Lewis is the force behind the free daily email service Now I Know.  Like the old adage you learn something new every day, Now I Know feeds your mind with a variety of different things each day with which you can impress your work colleagues, friends and family.  Or not.  Whether you keep this new knowledge to yourself is up to you. However, you should really think about subscribing - click the image to take you there or subscribe to his newsletter here.

During World War II, the English Channel and North Sea were, understandably, thoroughfares of war.  These bodies of water, together, separated England from mainland Europe, and the United Kingdom took advantage of the terrestrial barriers by building sea forts housed with troops and artillery.

One of these sea forts, Roughs Tower, was built above a sandbar (Rough Sands) roughly seven miles off shore.   Made of two hollow towers joined by a deck, Roughs Tower housed between 150 and 300 naval personnel throughout the War, and remained in use through 1956.

Roughs Tower was unique from the other sea forts for two reasons: First, the other bases were pulled down after the British navy was done using them.  Second, Roughs Tower is in international waters.

More than a decade after it was last used by the military, Roughs Tower found itself in use again.  In late 1967, Major Paddy Roy Bates, a pirate radio broadcaster, occupied the fort with the intention of broadcasting his radio station from there.   He didn't stop there.  Realizing that he was in international waters, Bates turned Roughs Tower into -- at least in his view -- a sovereign nation, The Principality of Sealand, with Bates bestowing upon himself the title Price Roy of Sealand. 

The next year, Bates took action to protect his perceived independence.  Workmen entered Sealand's territorial waters to repair a navigation buoy, and Bates' son, Michael, taking this as an act of aggression (Sealand's website states that "[u]nits of the navy entered the territorial waters claimed by Roy of Sealand") fired warning shots at the workmen-turned-trespassers.    Being a British subject at the time, Michael was brought up on charges, but the British court determined that the courts had no jurisdiction over the incident because it occurred outside of Britain's ordinary territorial limits.

Sealand uses this finding as Exhibit A in arguing that other nations have recognized its sovereignty.   In fact, Britain itself once relied on the decision to disavow itself of responsibility for Sealand's actions.  In 1978, a group of Dutch men, hired by a Alexander Achenbach, a German citizen, attacked the island/platform/nation and took Michael Bates hostage.  Roy Bates, with the help of his own mercenaries, was able to retake Roughs Tower, but refused to release the Achenbach, who held a Sealand passport.  Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands petitioned the British government for help, but the UK declined citing the 1968 decision above.   Achenbach was eventually released, per Sealand's official history, as to "not bloody the reputation of Sealand".

Since then?  Sealand still exists, under the reign of the Bates family, although as of January 2007, they're looking to "sell" the country.  (They probably won't accept Sealand issued coins, pictured above right.) Or, at least, turn their story into a movie.

Bonus fact
In 1941, a small group of people from parts of California and Oregon tried to secede from their parent states and form the State of Jefferson, situated in the Pacific Northwest.  Their secession efforts ended abruptly when, at the end of the year, Japanese forces attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, as many of the secessionists joined the war effort.