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The Principality of Sealand

The Principality of Sealand off the British Coast is Not Independent


Updated May 15, 2014
Paddy Roy Bates is putting his non-country of the Principality of Sealand up for sale after a 40-year struggle for independence. The Principality of Sealand, located on an abandoned World War II anti-aircraft platform seven miles (11 km) off the English coast, claims that it is a legitimate independent country but that's quite doubtful.

In January 2007, the Bates family announced that they were wanting to move on from the challenge of Sealand and placed the tower up for sale. According to media reports, they hope to receive bids in the eight figure range. It remains to be seen who would want to buy a platform that is not a country by any stretch of the imagination.


In 1967, retired British Army major Paddy Roy Bates occupied the abandoned Rough's Tower in the North Sea, northeast of London and opposite the mouth of the Orwell River and Felixstowe. He and his wife discussed independence with British attorneys and subsequently declared independence for the Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1976. Bates called himself Prince Roy and named his wife Princess Joan. They began issuing coins, passports, and stamps for their new country.

In support of The Principality of Sealand's sovereignty, Prince Roy fired warning shots at a buoy repair boat that came close to Sealand. The Prince was charged with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm by the British government. The Essex court proclaimed that they didn't have jurisdiction over the tower and the British government chose to drop the case due to mockery by the media. That case represents Sealand's entire claim to de facto international recognition as an independent country. (The United Kingdom demolished the only other nearby tower lest others get the idea to also strive for independence.)

Today, only Prince Roy lives on the tower of the The Principality of Sealand at sixty feet above the sea. Princess Joan's arthritis isn't conducive to living on the North Sea and though the royal family's son, Prince Michael takes care of much of the business for Sealand, he also lives onshore. The Bateses all maintain "dual" citizenship in the United Kingdom and Sealand.

In 2000, the The Principality of Sealand came into the news because a company called HavenCo Ltd planned on operating a complex of Internet servers at Sealand, out of the reach of governmental control. HavenCo gave the Bates $250,000 and stock to lease Rough's Tower and the company has the option to purchase Sealand in the future. This transaction was especially satisfying to the Bates as the maintenance and support of Sealand has been quite expensive over the past 40 years.

An Assessment

There are eight accepted criteria used to determine whether an entity is an independent country or not. Let's examine and answer each of the requirements of being an independent country with respect to Sealand and its "sovereignty."

1) Has space or territory which has internationally recognized boundaries.

No. The Principality of Sealand has no land or boundaries at all, it's a tower built by the British as an anti-aircraft platform during World War II. Certainly, the government of the U.K. can assert that it owns this platform.

Sealand also lies within the United Kingdom's proclaimed 12 nautical mile territorial water limit. Sealand claims that since it asserted its sovereignty before the U.K. extended its territorial waters, it concept of being "grandfathered in" applies. Sealand also claims its own 12.5 nautical mile territorial water.

2) Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.

Not really. As of 2000, only one person lives at Sealand and he's going to move out, to be replaced by temporary residents working for HavenCo. Prince Roy maintains his U.K. citizenship and passport, lest he end up somewhere where Sealand's passport isn't recognized. (No countries legitimately recognize the Sealand passport; those who have used such passports for international travel likely encountered an official who didn't care to notice the passport's "country" of origin.)

3) Has economic activity and an organized economy. A State regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.

No. HavenCo represents Sealand's only economic activity up to now. While Sealand issued money, there's no use for it beyond collectors. Likewise, Sealand's stamps only have value to a philatelist (stamp collector) as Sealand is not a member of the Universal Postal Union, mail from Sealand can't be sent elsewhere (nor is there much sense in mailing a letter across the tower itself).


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