FLORIDA, October 31, 2012 — Sometimes, big things really do come in small packages.
The Principality of Sealand might be regarded as living proof of this. The self-declared state consists of an abandoned British military fort which was claimed by Paddy Roy Bates, an enterprising pirate radio broadcaster, in 1967. As the fort was located in international waters at the time — seven nautical miles off of the Suffolk coast, to be exact — he was able to manage his own affairs.
A British court eventually ruled that Sealand was outside of its jurisdiction, which functioned as de facto recognition in Bates’s view. Furthermore, when the Principality was invaded during the late ‘70s, Germany sent diplomatic representation as a means of remedying the crisis.
In 1987, however, the United Kingdom extended its territorial waters so far that Sealand came within its control. The Principality, as one might imagine, responded to this by increasing its own claim to territorial waters.
Needless to say, the situation is very complicated. To this day, prominent researchers and scholars continue to debate Sealand’s autonomy.
In the meanwhile, the Bates family has established a royal court of its own, along with a legal system and economic strategy for the Principality. Earlier this month, HRH Prince Roy succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease. His passing was noted the world over, and his legacy seems secure as an adventurer, leader, and patriot.
His son, HRH Prince Michael, is now Sealand’s chief executive. In a candid discussion, he explains the Principality’s past, present, and future.
Joseph F. Cotto: To say that the political situation and history of the Principality is unique would be a colossal understatement. What, exactly, inspired HRH’s father to turn an abandoned sea fort into a self-declared state?
HRH Prince Michael: He had what was called a “pirate radio” station in the 60’s, broadcasting music into the UK from outside of territorial waters on another fortress. The UK government brought in the “Marine Offences Act” that closed down all the stations on ships and forts. It made it illegal to supply the stations with food fuel, staff or advertising revenue. My father looked for a better jurisdiction and came across the Roughs Towers.
He was going to set his station up there, but was annoyed at the way government had treated him. They had given permission for local radio stations ashore but had not given one licence to the original entrepreneurs like him who had changed the face of radio in the UK. Prior to this, there was no local radio, no music radio and no commercial radio.
He wanted to beak away from the UK. E Mare Libertas (From the Sea, Freedom).
Cotto: During the 1970s, Sealand became occupied by hostile forces. Why did this happen, and how was the country reclaimed?
Prince Michael: My father had some German and Dutch partners who had raised millions of deutschmarks to build a leisure island reclaimed from the sea. They decided to keep the money and build the island for themselves without us. We took the doors of a helicopter and fast roped down onto the top at dawn.
Cotto: How exactly is the Principality’s government structured? Are relations with the UK and other countries generally of a beneficial nature?
Prince Michael: It is a constitutional monarchy. Relations with other countries are minimal.
Cotto: Sealand is very welcoming of business ventures. What are the essential components of the Principality’s economy?
Prince Michael: I.T. Services and through public support for which we award noble titles. They go down a storm for family Christmas presents.
Cotto: Across the world, though especially here in the United States, the Great Recession continues to crawl along. Has Sealand’s economy heavily impacted by this?
Prince Michael: It hit our server hosting business, but we are fine and always looking for new commercial ideas.
Cotto: What is the current population, both living in the Principality and abroad? Does Sealand accept residency requests?
Prince Michael: We get daily requests but have to turn most of them down. Residents are anywhere from two to fifty depending on projects in hand.
Cotto: Does HRH see the none too distant future holding any great changes for the Principality?
Prince Michael: We are looking for ways to raise funds to renew our fortress island.
Cotto: It has been said that the defining characteristics of any nation are its borders, language, and culture. Generally speaking, what is life like in Sealand?
Prince Michael: Pretty laid back but disciplined. There is always something new around the corner.
Cotto: We Americans are a people noted for our staunch individualism. Does HRH believe that the Principality’s background might be of special interest to us for this very reason?
Prince Michael: I think Americans understand Sealand because it is the American dream of entrepreneurial freedom with an almost frontier existence in the early days.
Cotto: After learning about the Principality’s past, present, and plans for the future, many readers are probably wondering about HRH’s own life story. In closing, would HRH mind telling us about this?
Prince Michael: I have written my book, it is with an old established London agent and is waiting for a publisher to come forward. It tells the story “Warts and all” it makes, I think, a good and amusing read.
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