History of a nation

Seven miles off the eastern shores of Britain, being battered by the North Sea, a World War II Fort stood in international waters; Roughs Tower. It was to become the birthplace of a nation.

The Origin of our Fortress

During the Second World War, the British government built several Fortress islands in the North Sea to defend its coasts from German invaders. Some of these forts were built illegally in international waters.

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 Following WWII, the naval personnel and marines were withdrawn from all of these forts by the British Admiralty.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.

The birth of sealand

In the early 60’s, Roy Bates, a Major in the British army, established a radio station, situated offshore on an abandoned ex naval fort named “Knock John”. The theory behind this location was an attempt to bypass the draconian broadcasting restrictions of the time, which permitted little more than formal broadcasting by the BBC.

Roy’s station, “Radio Essex”, and others like it, were known affectionately by the media as “Pirate” radio stations, and were much loved by the British public, as they supplied everything that the BBC did not at the time; Pop music and amusing presenters.
In the years that ensued, Roy fought an unsuccessful legal battle with the UK government, which questioned the legality of his occupation of said fort. It was ruled that “Knock John” fell under UK jurisdiction. Smarting from his setback, Roy weighed his options. Another abandoned fortress, Roughs Tower, identical in construction to the Knock John existed further offshore, and crucially, outside of the three mile limit to which the UK jurisdiction extended. Roy proceeded to occupy Roughs Tower, on Christmas eve 1966, with the intention of revitalising his dormant radio station. This was until he conjured a different plan entirely. After consulting his lawyers, Roy decided to declare this fortress island the independent state of “Sealand”, Claiming “Jus Gentium” (“Law of Nations”) over a part of the globe that was “Terra Nullius” (Nobody’s Land).

On the 2nd of September 1967, accompanied by his wife Joan on her birthday, his son Michael (14), daughter Penelope (16) and several friends and followers, Roy declared the Principality of Sealand. The founding of this country was marked by the raising of a newly designed flag, and in an extremely romantic birthday gesture, the bestowing of a new title on his beloved wife, to be know from that moment on as “Princess Joan”.

Bates family looked on as huge explosions sent the massive structures hurtling hundreds of feet in the air,

It was not long before the British Government decided they could not have what ministers described as a possible “Cuba off the east coast of England”. The military were promptly dispatched to destroy all other remaining forts located in international waters.

Battles for Sealand’s Sovereignty

Prince Roy and Princess Joan circa 1967

Shortly after the declaration of independence, Roy’s son, Prince Michael, repelled no less than seven armed invasion attempts, employing an arsenal of guns, Molotov Cocktails and homemade projectiles. By late 1968, Sealand would find itself battling for survival on several fronts as the British government had become aware of Sealand, and the potential problems associated with a new country seven miles off of their coast.

Eager to quash the fledgling nation, 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 for fear of repercussions, having themselves placed the fortress illegally in international waters. On several occasions British warships entered the territorial waters claimed by Prince Roy. After several failed attempts to capture the fortress by force (and one time by deception), the British Navy stood down. 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.

Building a new nation

On the 25th of September 1975, Prince Roy proclaimed the Constitution of the Principality of Sealand.

Over time, other national treasures were developed, such as it’s national anthem, stamps, as well as gold and silver coins, minted as Sealand dollars. Principality of Sealand passports were produced and issued to many of those who have contributed to the formation and continuation of the Principality.

Coup d'État

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 upon, 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’, available here

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 counter attack had not resulted in a loss of life, released the treasonous German citizen, in a move aimed at preventing the bloodying of Sealand’s reputation.

Extension of territorial waters

On 1 October 1987, Britain extended its territorial waters from 3 to 12 nautical miles. The previous day, in anticipation of this, Prince Roy declared the extension of Sealand’s territorial waters to be 12 nautical miles, so that right of way from the open sea to Sealand would not be blocked by British claimed waters (Sealand being approximately 7miles from British shores).

No treaty has been signed between Britain and Sealand to divide up the overlapping areas, but a general policy of dividing the area between the two countries down the middle can be assumed. International
law does not allow the claim of new land during the extension of sea rights, so Sealand’s sovereignty was safely ‘grandfathered’. Some nations might have tried to use this as an excuse to try to subvert international law and claim all of the territory of the smaller and less recognised nation, however, this has not been the case. Britain has made no attempt to take Sealand, and the British government still treats Sealand as an independent State.

2000's: Data and 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 members of Havenco’s senior management over issues concerning acceptable user policy.  The year following launch 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.

In June 2006, a fire ignited due to an anomalous failure of one of Sealand’s power generators. The fire quickly burned through the generator room housing, encompassing the entirety of the north deck. A rescue helicopter was dispatched from RAF Wattisham to evacuate one of Sealand’s citizens. Having been airlifted to hospital, he was treated for smoke inhalation and discharged the same day. The principality had established a good relationship with RAF air-sea rescue teams, and had for years allowed them to run practice drills of airlifting casualties from the Sealand fortress.

In the subsequent weeks, a team of no less than ten people were tasked with clearing and repairing the fire damage.

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