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The 55th Anniversary of Sealand’s Independence: A Look Back at the History of Sealand

The 55th Anniversary of Sealand’s Independence: A Look Back at the History of Sealand

This year marks the 55th anniversary of Sealand’s independence. On September 2, 1967, Roy and Joan Bates raised the Principality of Sealand’s flag for the first time and announced its independence to the world. Since then, Sealand has undergone a remarkable transformation from a small fortress into a revolutionary international realm. In this blog post, we will take a look back at Sealand’s fascinating history and explore how it has evolved over the past 55 years.

How did Sealand come to be known as one of the most famous places on Earth?

1. The Fortress

Roughs Tower Grounding

During World War II, the United Kingdom took the hasty decision to establish a number of offshore military forts, the purpose of which was to defend England against German air raids. These sea forts housed enough troops to man and maintain anti-aircraft weaponry designed to shoot down German aircraft and missiles. They were situated along the east coast of England on the edge of British territorial waters. One of these forts, consisting of concrete and steel construction, was the now famous Roughs Tower, situated in the North Sea. In contrast to the original plan to locate the tower within the sovereign territory of Great Britain; this fortress was situated at a distance of approximately 7 nautical miles from the coast, which is more than double the then internationally accepted 3-mile range of territorial waters. To put it briefly, this island was illegally placed in the international waters of the North Sea, but such restrictions were overlooked in a time of war.

Following WWII, the naval personnel and marines were withdrawn from all of these forts by the British Admiralty. None of them were ever manned by the United Kingdom again, leaving the forts deserted to nature and the elements, thus abandoning their sovereignty. Save the aforementioned fortress, the other forts outside UK international limits were subsequently demolished. This resulted in the portentous uniqueness of the Roughs Tower fortress, situated at the high seas, it had been deserted and abandoned, ‘res derelict’ and ‘terra nullis’. From a legal point of view, it, therefore, constituted extra-national territory. This paved the way for occupation.

2. Battles for Sealand's sovereignty: pirates, petrol bombs & prosecution

Sealand Armoury

Sealand’s early days were fraught with difficulties. Shortly after declaring independence, Prince Michael repelled seven armed invasions, using a variety of weapons. In late 1968, the British government became aware of Sealand and the potential problems associated with it. Officials in the UK tasked the British Military with removing Prince Roy and destroying Roughs Tower. The British military were keen to resolve this problem swiftly and subtly, fearing repercussions. On several occasions, British warships entered the waters claimed by Prince Roy. However, Prince Roy was able to hold on to his claim to Sealand and Roughs Tower. In a separate incident, an incursion by a UK Government vessel into Sealand’s waters led to Prince Michael undertaking decisive defensive measures by way of warning shots across it’s bow. Prince Michael was still a British citizen, thus he was charged with extensive crimes upon his return to Britain and summoned to an English court. The result of this lawsuit was a spectacular success for Sealand’s claim to sovereignty. In its judgement of 25 November 1968, the court declared that it was not competent in Roy and Michael of Sealand’s case as it could not exert any jurisdiction outside British national territory. This was the first de facto recognition of the Principality of Sealand. British law had ruled that Sealand was not part of the United Kingdom, nor did any other nation claim it, hence Prince Roy’s declaration of a new state was de facto upheld. A further firearms incident occurred in 1990 when a ship strayed too near Sealand and warning shots were again fired from Sealand. The ship’s crew protested to British authorities and a national newspaper article ran detailing the incident. Yet despite Britain’s severe prohibition of firearms, British authorities have never pursued the matter. This is a clear indication that Britain considers Sealand to be outside of their jurisdiction.

3. Coup D’état

1967 Defending Sealand

In August of 1978, a number of Dutch and German men came to Sealand in the employ of a German businessman. They were visiting under the guise of a business proposition. This transpired to be a ruse, as these men were in fact highly trained mercenaries. While Prince Roy was away they kidnapped his son Michael and took Sealand by force. These terrorists bound Prince Michael’s hands and feet, holding him captive for several days, before eventually transferring him against his will onto a fishing trawler. Following the trawler’s landing in the Netherlands, Prince Michael made his way back to the UK to reunite with his father, Prince Roy. A plan was immediately hatched to recapture Sealand, codenamed: ‘Operation Trident’. Sealand’s most loyal and highly trained citizens were called up, and the legendary ‘Sealand Special Unit’ was born. The operation was executed a few short days later. It involved a daring dawn helicopter assault and culminated in the unconditional surrender of the invaders. (The only true first-hand account of this event is recalled in Prince Michael’s book: ‘Holding the Fort’).

The invaders were held as prisoners of war. During this period, the governments of Germany and the Netherlands petitioned for their release. Initially, they asked Britain to intervene in the matter, but the British government cited their earlier court decision as evidence that they held no authority over the territory of Sealand, stating that there was nothing that they could do. Prince Roy released the Dutch citizens, as the war was over, and the Geneva Convention mandates the release of all prisoners. The German citizen however was the holder of a Sealand passport. Because of this, he was tried on Sealand for treason. Found guilty, he was incarcerated for an extended period of time in Sealand’s jail, at the bottom of the North Tower. Following this, in a sensational act of de facto recognition of Sealand’s sovereignty, Germany sent a diplomat directly to Sealand via helicopter to negotiate the release of their citizen. Prince Roy, grateful that the counterattack had not resulted in a loss of life, released the treasonous German citizen, in a move preventing the bloodying of Sealand’s reputation.

4. The 2000s, Data & Disaster


In early 1999 a group of young American entrepreneurs pitched the idea of Havenco to Prince Michael. The premise was to establish an internet server farm on Sealand which would allow users to operate free of draconian censorship restrictions imposed by other nations. During the year 2000, in the midst of the Dot-com boom, contracts were signed, capital was raised and Havenco was established on Sealand, along with bases in London and Amsterdam. Huge infrastructure upgrades began in earnest to accommodate and power the vast racks of servers as well as meet the logistical demands of the project. Satellite and microwave links were installed, and around 25 Staff from the US, UK and Europe immigrated to Sealand, preparing for the launch of the service. Havenco took global media coverage and the inception of the project was met with much fanfare. This would prove to be the first misstep for Havenco, as the launch of the service was beset with delays, and come launch day, the media buzz had cooled. By late 2000 Havenco launched. Differences became immediately clear between Sealand’s Royal Family, and the senior management of Havenco over issues concerning acceptable user policy. In late 2001, Havenco suffered a crisis. The company supplying a vital internet link became one of the many victims of the bursting Dot-com bubble, and Havenco’s connection was cut, albeit temporarily. Service was resumed in January 2002 following the installation of a new microwave link and E1 connection. The same year would also see Havenco’s founding CEO return to the US citing personal issues. In the latter part of 2002, Havenco’s CTO departed the company in acrimonious circumstances. In 2003, with fast depleting resources, Havenco was disbanded.

Since declaring independence, Sealand has continued to grow and thrive. Today, Sealand is home to a thriving online community of nobles and Sealand supporters from all over the world.

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