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Sunday, 25 June, 2006

Perhaps the closest thing to a successful “micronation” our world has developed.

Principality of Sealand, 2 September 1967 – 23 June 2006.

The history of Sealand is a story of a struggle for liberty. Sealand was founded on the principle that any group of people dissatisfied with the oppressive laws and restrictions of existing nation states may declare independence in any place not claimed to be under the jurisdiction of another sovereign entity. The location chosen was Roughs Tower, an island fortress created in World War II by Britain and subsequently abandoned to the jurisdiction of the High Seas. The independence of Sealand was upheld in a 1968 British court decision where the judge held that Roughs Tower stood in international waters and did not fall under the legal jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. This gave birth to Sealand’s national motto of E Mare Libertas, or “From the Sea, Freedom”.

I’ve been fascinated with Sealand for some time, even if the topic doesn’t get mentioned much.

The project started as an alternative to the “Offshore Radio” phenomenon near the U.K. in the sixties, although they never successfully broadcast, or as far as anyone knows, built facilities on the Principality. The usual practice was to purchase a ship, often in questionable condition, and build an entire broadcast station upon it. Production centers, a broadcast studio or two and everything related to actual MW radio transmission upon a seafaring vessel which could be operated with a crew of two to six persons. Because, for a start, the entire operation was based at sea the then-monopoly BBC referred to these stations as pirates. Land-based and legitimately licensed Radio Luxembourg was actually the first of these (1951) as they were clearly audible in the UK after sunset, and established studios in London recording material for later broadcast.

Once the idea of broadcasting to a British audience, and selling commercial time, from outside the official control of the state monopoly took hold a number of pirates took to the seas and airwaves. The only new project which attempted to build a permanent base for such activities was Sealand.

In 1971, the BBC elected to license commercial radio broadcasts (as they had with television since the technology’s inception) with the provision that none of the pirate stations could be declared legitimate. This was the opening of the inexplicably named “BBC Radio 1” pop music station. The old, single BBC channel was declared “Radio Two”. The most popular pirate DJ’s were hired on at BBC 1, and folks like Sealand were out of business.

Sealand persevered as a project in the lovable-British-eccentric mode with Sealand interpreting a number of legal decisions with which they were involved as establishing a kind of sovereignty. As such they issued stamps, currency (primarily coins) and titles to collectors and supporters. For a time the Royal Mail is believed to have recognized Sealand postage, although this remains unconfirmed.

The project toddled along, with one militant attack by persons based in The Netherlands in 1978 which resulted in an international hostage situation:

In August of 1978, a number of Dutch men came to Sealand in the employ of a German businessman. They were there to discuss business dealings with Sealand. While Roy was away in Britain, these men kidnapped Prince Roy’s son Michael, and took Sealand by force. Soon after, Roy recaptured the island with a group of his own men and held the attackers as prisoners of war.

During the time that he held the prisoners, the Governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned for their release. First they asked England to intervene in the matter, but the British government cited their earlier court decision as evidence that they made no claim to the territory of Sealand. Then, in an act of de facto recognition of Sealand’s sovereignty, Germany sent a diplomat directly to Sealand to negotiate for the release of their citizen.

Roy first released the Dutch citizens, as the war was over, and the Geneva Convention requires the release of all prisoners. The German was held longer, as he had accepted a Sealand Passport, and therefore was guilty of treason. Prince Roy, who was grateful that the incident had not resulted in a loss of life, and did not want to bloody the reputation of Sealand, eventually released him as well.

Since this time a group in Germany with no connection to the occupiers of Sealand, has held itself as the government-in-exile of the Principality. Going so far as to issue blatantly fraudulent passports to Chinese residents of Hong Kong just before the surrender of the territory to China.

In 1999 a deal was struck with a U.K.-based internet-hosting provider to establish a data center, and the first real commerce on Sealand itself. The point of colocation on Sealand is not entirely clear. The promotional literature states HavenCo, Ltd.: “is able to offer, unparalleled security and independence to users who wish to take advantage of its Internet colocation services.”

Friday Afternoon, a fire was reported on the old platform. It remains, as of the latest reporting (Sunday AM, UTC) inaccessible. HavenCo’s on-shore backup systems have kept their client sites up and running. The current “Sovereign pro tempore” of Sealand, the founder’s son Michael Bates, styled HRH Prince Regent Michael, was seeking unscheduled access to the facility.

All they had to do was hold on until the next revolution. They did.

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