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For the shipping company, see Maersk Sealand; for the Danish island, see Zealand; for the Dutch province, see Zeeland.
The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.

Principality of Sealand self-declared unrecognised state
Flag of the Principality of Sealand Principality of Sealand: Coat of arms
(In Detail) (Full size)
National motto: E mare libertas (Latin: From the sea, freedom)
Official language English
Sovereigns Prince and Princess Roy Bates and Joan Bates
Head of State Prince Regent Michael Bates
Population 1 (Michael Bates) (2002)
Alleged establishment Day of Declaration of Independence, 2 September 1967
Currency Sealand dollar pegged to USD
Time zone UTC

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation that claims to be a sovereign state. Though no official bodies formally recognize its sovereign status, various factors give Sealand one of the strongest claims among micronations. If recognized, it would be by far the smallest country on earth, with a population that rarely exceeds five and a territory of less than a square mile.

Sealand occupies a structure that was created when a purpose-built World War II-era Royal Navy barge was towed to a postion above Rough Sands sandbar in the North Sea and had its hold intentionally flooded. It is sited six miles (10 km) off the coast of Suffolk, England at 51°53'40"N, 1°28'57"E, and has been occupied since 1967 by Paddy Roy Bates, his family and associates.



In 1942 during World War 2, HMS Fort Rough was constructed in England as one of the Maunsell Sea Forts. It comprised a floating barge with a superstructure of two towers joined by a deck upon which other structures could be added. The barge was towed to a position above Rough Sands sandbar where its hold was intentionally flooded so that the hulk sank to a resting place on the sandbar. The structure now visible above the waterline is the superstructure of the vessel.

The facility was occupied by 150-300 Royal Navy personnel throughout WWII, however at the conclusion of hostilities all personnel were evacuated and HMS Fort Rough was left derelict. On September 2, 1967, the fort was occupied by Paddy Roy Bates, a British subject and pirate radio broadcaster, who ejected a competing group of pirate broadcasters and claimed it as his own.

At that time, the United Kingdom claimed territorial waters of three nautical miles (5.6 km) from its coast, and therefore Roughs Tower was located in international waters, outside the territorial jurisdiction of any state. After taking legal advice, Bates declared the fortress to be an independent state, named it Sealand, and declared himself and his wife, Joan Bates, to be its sovereign rulers.

Roy and Joan Bates claimed Sealand as their own in the late 1960s.
Roy and Joan Bates claimed Sealand as their own in the late 1960s.

In 1968, Michael Bates was summoned to court as a result of an incident during which shots were fired at a British navy vessel in the vicinity of Sealand. According to some reports the vessel's occupants were intending to evict Bates from the fortress, while others state that they were simply attempting to repair a nearby navigation buoy.

In delivering its decision on November 25, 1968, the court stated that the matter was outside its jurisdiction since it occurred outside British territory. Agencies of the UK government subsequently pursued Bates and the occupants of Sealand with a series of litigations involving payment of social security taxes, television licensing, and other levies, but courts consistently ruled that Sealand was not a part of the United Kingdom.

In 1978, while Bates was away, the "Prime Minister" he had appointed, Professor Alexander G. Achenbach and several Dutch citizens staged a coup d'état, forcibly taking over Roughs Tower and holding his son, Michael, captive, before releasing him several days later in the Netherlands.

Bates thereupon enlisted armed assistance and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fortress. He then held the invaders captive, claiming them as prisoners of war. The Dutch participants in the invasion were repatriated at the cessation of the "war"; in contrast, Achenbach, a German citizen, was charged with treason against Sealand and imprisoned indefinitely. The governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed all responsibility, citing the 1968 court decision.

Germany then sent a diplomat to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Achenbach's release, and after several weeks Roy Bates relented – subsequently claiming that the diplomat's visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany. Germany has not confirmed this interpretation.

Following his repatriation Professor Achenbach established an "exile" government in Germany, in opposition to Roy Bates, assuming the title of "Chairman of the Privy Council". Upon Achenbach's resignation for health reasons in August 1989, the rebel government's "Minister for Economic Co-operation", Johannes Seiger assumed control, with the position of "Prime Minister and Chairman of the Privy Council". Seiger continues to claim that he is Sealand's legitimate ruling authority.

Sealand sparks much controversy due to its proximity to Britain.
Sealand sparks much controversy due to its proximity to Britain.

For a period, Sealand passports were mass manufactured and widely sold (mostly to gullible eastern Europeans) by a Spanish-based group believed to be associated with the Seiger "exile government". These passports, which were not authorised by the Bates family, were involved in several high-profile crimes, including the murder of Gianni Versace. Due to the massive quantity in circulation (estimated at 150,000), in 1997 the Bates family revoked all of the Sealand passports that they themselves had issued in the previous thirty years.

In 2000 Michael Bates entered into a partnership with Ryan Lackey, founder of HavenCo, with the intent of using Sealand as an electronic data haven, offering colocation services. HavenCo has been operating on Sealand since May of that year, and apparently has survived Lackey's allegedly acrimonious departure in 2002. It is unclear to what extent Sealand's and the Bates family's finances are reliant on the HavenCo business.

The ownership of the facility occupied by Sealand remains a matter of controversy to the present day, with some contemporary sources asserting that the UK Ministry of Defence continues to identify HMS Fort Rough as its property by maintaining buoys in the vicinity of the sunken barge.

Legal status

Sealand's claim that it is an independent state is founded on the following two propositions:

1. That when Paddy Roy Bates and his associates occupied the abandoned Roughs Tower in 1967 it was located in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and all other sovereign states. Sealand claims de jure legitimacy on this basis.

2. That the actions of the UK government, and of other governments – specifically the government of Germany – in their interactions with Sealand constitute de facto recognition. Sealand claims de facto legitimacy on this basis.

One set of criteria for statehood under international law is defined by the Montevideo Convention. This asserts that a defined territory, permanent population, government and the capacity to enter into relationships with other sovereign states are the only foundation requirements for a sovereign state. As these criteria are commonly understood, a "permanent population" does not entail a population of any specific size, however, the character of that population is generally taken into account. Similar arguments apply with respect to the other three Montevideo Convention criteria – although it is unclear if man-made structures can, or were ever intended to constitute territory under the Convention's terms.

An alternative legal argument against the statehood of Sealand exists in the constitutive theory – a theory widely, but not universally accepted in international law. This states, contrary to the Montevideo Convention, that recognition by other states is a condition for statehood. Since no other state explicitly recognises the existence of the Principality of Sealand, Sealand is not a state under this theory's criteria.

Constitutive theory involves "recognition of existence" as opposed to "diplomatic recognition". For example, until recently Libya was not recognised diplomatically by the UK, but was acknowledged to exist, because the UK government undertook special measures to protect its citizens in that state and did not accept that any other state had sovereignty over the territory administered by Libya.

Sealand's claims of sovereignty encompass the area of Roughs Tower.
Sealand's claims of sovereignty encompass the area of Roughs Tower.

Since the 1968 UK court decision, the United Kingdom has extended its territorial sea to twelve nautical miles (22 km), in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Sealand has also claimed the waters surrounding Roughs Tower [1], and has physically defended this claim on at least one occasion: In an incident in 1990, Roy Bates fired upon the Royal Maritime Auxiliary vessel Golden Eye. The vessel believed itself to be under attack, radioed the Thames Coastguard to that effect, and withdrew.

Although the UK has publicly asserted its authority over Roughs Tower [2], it appears to be government policy to refrain from comment or action except when forced. British Government documents, now available to the public under the 30 year expiration of confidentiality, show that the UK drafted plans to retake the fortress, but such plans were not implemented by then Prime Minister due to the potential for loss of life, and a concomitant anticipated legal and public relations disaster.

Despite passing highly restrictive legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the UK Government has apparently not attempted to regulate communications or require records from computer servers located on Sealand. Similarly, data protection legislation concerning the transfer of data outside the United Kingdom is apparently not enforced in respect of Sealand.

Legal quandaries arising from circumstances similar to those which apply to Sealand are no longer possible. Since the Third Conference on the Laws of the Sea , the nearest neighbouring state is now required to consent to the construction of any artificial island pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (agreed to on December 10, 1982, at Montego Bay). Moreover, this convention requires the neighbouring state to demolish or have removed any such artificial constructions immediately after use.

According to this convention, there is no transitional law and no possibility to consent to the existence of a construction which was previously approved or built by the neighbouring state. This means that an artificial island can no longer be constructed and then claimed as a sovereign state, or as state territory for the purposes of extension of an exclusive economic zone or of territorial waters.

However, the governments of both the United Kingdom and the United States of America have taken a totally different interpretation of this history.

Beginning almost as soon as the Roy Bates had taken possession of what had been HMS Roughs, a barge built in England and floated offshore and then sunk on Rough Sands, sandbar, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Harold Wilson decided to ignore the squatters and deny them publicity. However, Roy Bates then began interpreting the actions of Essex Police who had brought him into a (now defunct) local court for discharging a firearm without a license, as recognition of his claim that he had been in an independent country. The local court had merely stated that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter. It had no power to issue any form of status hearing concerning the occupation of a former Royal Navy sea fort sunken barge.

Not deterred, Roy Bates then proclaimed the sunked barge as the "Principality of Sealand", notwithstanding the fact that the UK had not bestowed upon him the title of prince of a principality. The idea seems to have been born in the head of Roy Bates from the headlines of the day when Prince Charles was about to be named as Prince of the Principality of Wales by his mother the Queen. Unlike Prince Charles, Roy Bates never had any form of sub-sovereignty conferred upon him by any official representing a principal state, so he merely claimed the title for himself.

In 1990 matters came to the attention of a U.S. Federal Administrative Court in Washington, D.C., where the history of these claims by Roy Bates were heard. This was due to a U.S. citizen named Allan Weiner who claimed that he had established a [pirate radio] station called ["Radio Newyork International"] on board the "MV Sarah", which had been registered in the Principality of Sealand in order to avoid FCC (Federal Communications Commission) jurisdiction. The radio ship had previously broadcast off Jones Beach, Long Island, New York during the late 1980s and it had been raided by the US Customs, Coast Guard and FCC. Following a meeting with Michael Bates, son of Roy Bates, the station alleged that it had entered into an agreement whereby Radio Newyork International would promote the Principality of Sealand in exchange for the ship's registration. As a result of this agreement the station recommenced broadcasting from the same location. It was told by US authorities to cease transmissions or risk boarding once again. The station complied.

When the matter finally came before an FCC Administrative Court however, its published opinion derided the entire episode. After receiving a written statement on behalf of the UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the USA federal court ruled that no such principality had ever existed because the fort was merely a former Royal Navy installation and this sunken barge was now within the territorial waters of the UK. Upon appeal and review the USA court upheld its earlier finding which has never been challenged by Roy Bates, his family or his legal representatives.

Due to the fact that the Bates family have kept quiet about this USA court hearing, USA citizen Ryan Lackey was not aware of it when he entered into a contract with Roy Bates to establish a data center on Rough Tower. However, his discovery of this hitherto unknown legal history which had taken place in his own country years before, became one of the reasons why he decided to leave the venture. Ryan claims that "He could sue, but it would cost him too much, so he has moved on and is doing other things now. He didn't do due diligence; if he had he would have found that other people have had bad problems with Sealand before. He gives the example of a failed ship registration business."

The Bates family

Irrespective of its actual status, Sealand is managed by the Bates family as though it were a recognised sovereign entity, and they its hereditary, royal rulers.

Roy and Joan Bates have been referred to internally since the foundation of Sealand as "Their Royal Highnesses Prince Roy and Princess Joan of Sealand". Roy Bates is styled "Sovereign", and Joan Bates is sometimes described as being "in joint rule" with him. Their son is known as "His Royal Highness Prince Michael". Michael Bates has been referred to as the "Prince Regent" since 1999. In this role he apparently serves as Sealand's acting "Head of State" and "Head of Government".

All three Sealand royals are believed to retain UK citizenship, and it is believed that the family has not been in permanent residence on the Roughs Tower facility since 1999. As Sealand is not a recognised country, the Bates travel internationally officially as British citizens.

Sealand operations

Sealand possesses a simple constitution, instituted in 1995, which consists of a preamble and seven articles. The preamble asserts Sealand's independence, while the articles variously deal with the Sealand's status as a constitutional monarchy, the empowerment of government bureaux, the role of an appointed, advisory Senate, the functions of an appointed, advisory legal tribunal, a proscription against the bearing of arms except by members of a designated "Sealand Guard", the exclusive right of the sovereign to formulate foreign policy and alter the constitution, and the hereditary patrilinear succession of the monarchy.

Current Sealand government bureaux are: the Bureau of External Affairs, the Bureau of Internal Affairs, and the Bureau of Posts Telecomms and Technology.

Most of the organs of Sealand's government are apparently either inactive or operate outside of Sealand's territory itself.

A Sealand State Corporation was chartered by Roy Bates and charged with the "development of the state" shortly after Sealand's foundation, but its current status and range of activities, if any, is unknown.

Sealand's legal system is said to follow British common law, and statutes take the form of Decrees enacted by the Sovereign.

The chief of the Bureau of Internal Affairs said in a letter to a Wikipedia editor that the "Advocate-General" (a role not described in the constitution) "may call tribunals in appropriate circumstances". The Bureau of Internal Affairs apparently vets and registers qualified legal professionals to practise "Sealand law", although the level of frequency with which this occurs is unknown.


Sealand first issued postage stamps in 1969, when a helicopter service was instituted to carry mail between Roughs Tower and Brussels, Belgium. A significant volume of mail carrying Sealand stamps and postmarks was accepted without surcharge and passed by Belgian postal authorities into the international postal system at this time, which seems to indicate that a formal arrangement of some sort existed between them and Sealand.

Although few stamp issues have been made since the 1960s, Sealand postage stamps and postal cancellations continue to be used on most if not all mail from the principality – although the actual volume of such mail is believed to be limited.

The United Kingdom's Royal Mail official policy is to stamp envelopes not bearing UK stamps with a 'revenue protection' cancel, in order to be able to claim postal carriage charges from the recipient – although recent examples exist of mail bearing Sealand stamps and cancellations, to the exclusion of all others, being transmitted through the international postal system.

Sealand publicises the following as its postal address: 'Sealand 1001; Sealand Post Bag, IP11 9SZ, UK'. The Royal Mail postcode is the one for Felixstowe near Ipswich, and the Royal Mail website gives the following standardised address: 'Sealand Fort, PO Box 3, FELIXSTOWE, IP11 9SZ, UK'.

Sealand is not a member of the Universal Postal Union, which regulates the sending of mail between countries, and its address is in what it claims is a foreign country. In a similar manner, mail for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus must be addressed to 'Mersin 10, Turkey'.

Sealand's stamps are generally classed as "locals" by most collectors; such stamps are valid for the carriage of mail between a location that lacks a regular postal service, and a location from which the onward transmission of such mail occurs.


Sealand's official currency is the "Sealand Dollar", which is maintained at parity with the US Dollar. Several dozen different coins have been minted since 1972 in various units of this currency. Given Sealand's limited population, physical inaccessibility and lack of a large-scale economy it is unlikely that these coins were ever intended for use as circulating currency. Most were produced in precious metals, which have appeal to investors and coin collectors. In the early 1990s, the "exile" government also produced a coin, featuring a likeness of rebel "prime minister" Seiger.


Legal opinions regarding Sealand

  • Bela Vitanyi (Professor in Public International Law, University of Nijmegen) ~1970, "Legal Opinion about the International Status of the Principality of Sealand". Professor Vitanyi is author of several books on international maritime law and is a highly respected authority.
  • Dr Walter Leisner
  • L. W. Conway, 27 March 1981

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45