With its two hollow towers and a landing deck, floating some six miles off the coast of Suffolk, England, the Principality of Sealand looks anything but inspired. The story of how it became recognized by some as the smallest nation on earth, though, is stranger than fiction. The former Royal Navy sea base (HMS Forts) has been home to the Bates family since 1967, who proclaimed it as an independent sovereign nation. Major Paddy Roy Bates (of the British Army and a former pirate radio impresario) ejected the owners of Radio City from the base and used it to broadcast Radio Essex.
In 1968, after firing shots on an ‘intruder’ who entered their nautical territory to service a navigational buoy, Bates was hauled before a UK court, which ruled in his favour, declaring Sealand to be outside of the UK’s waters. Bates, seizing the initiative, introduced a national anthem, flag, passports and constitution. The nation of Sealand had come into being… at least in the eyes of a few.
The story from here forth is a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, with the only constant being the surreal. Every nation has its enemies, and the micronation of Sealand was no different. Having been invited into partnership with Sealand by Bates and his family, Alexander Achenbach, a German, launched an air and sea assault on Sealand in 1978, led by mercenaries from Holland and Germany. Speed boats and helicopters besieged the towers and kidnapped Bates’ son Michael.
A struggle ensued and after securing the safety of Michael, Achenbach was charged with treason and held on Sealand, leading to a political standoff between Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, with the former three petitioning the latter for his release. Having previously determined that Sealand was outside of British jurisdiction, though, the courts were powerless to help. The German government dispatched a diplomat to Sealand to negotiate his release and after several weeks, Bates relented. The official visit of a diplomat, however, led Bates to proclaim de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany, a claim the German government has refuted.
Nowadays, Major Bates is retired in Spain with his wife, leaving the run of Sealand to his son, Prince Michael. Bates Junior hasn’t had to deal with the physical threat of war or attack, but the new era brought its own difficulties. All Sealand passports, for example, have been revoked after an illegal trade in them resulted in the existence of over 150,000 (they are speculated to have been circulated heavily amongst Colombian drug gangs). It’s not all bad though. Sealand has been represented by athletes the world over at major sporting events, including fencing, martial arts and athletics. The future, it would seem, is bright.
Having followed the story of Sealand for years, I was delighted when Prince Michael responded to an interview request some months back. I have sat on the results for a while, wondering what best to do with them… but thought there would be no better destination than Scrawls & Bawls. Thanks to Michael for participating, the hilarious transcript is below.
I would like to start off with a bit of historical background. Can you describe, using your own personal memories, how Sealand came to exist?
My father had a pirate radio station in the 60s on the Knock John forts. The government brought in the marine offences act and effectively closed him down with fines etc. He had to look for a better jurisdiction for his station (although he never broadcast from there).
How old were you when your family first went to Sealand? Did you live their permanently?
Returning from boarding school in Wales Spring 67 my father was having money and staff troubles so I volunteered to help for the adventure. I was 14
You were held captive in 1978, what is your recollection of the event?
Anger that we had put in so many years of work and some bloody German thought he would take it over and destroy us. The biggest adrenaline rush of my life sliding down a rope from a hovering helicopter 100 ft above the rough North Sea with a shotgun hanging around my neck. Elation at recapturing an almost impregnable fortress.
What was the background to the Sealand Conflict?
My father had arranged to meet these people in Austria to sign a contract taking them in as partners. They decided like Hitler with Poland to just march in and share nothing.
What is the current situation, with regard the proclaimed “government in exile” in Germany?
They are fraudsters that claim to represent Sealand including offering flights there from the UK. They offer something they don’t have. They would also appear to be Nazis.
You have fired on naval vessels on a number of occasions; did you fear the repercussions of such activity?
Yes warning shots for them to keep clear. A bang and a flash are acceptable methods of warning ships off at sea
What is your current relationship with the government of the UK? Are there diplomatic relations?
No they prefer to think we are not there
Again, how are your diplomatic relations with other countries?
Fine we don’t really communicate with them unless there is a crisis like the invasion of terrorists in 1978 and the German ambassador visited us resulting in de facto recognition from Germany.
What is the official business of Sealand? What sorts of activities occur their daily?
The sale of internet technology and other projects
Can you tell me about the current population?
Anywhere between two and fifty depending on who is there at the time
Do you feel any sense of patriotism to the UK? Do you consider yourself in anyway British?
Absolutely I love my country of birth and my father was wounded some eight times defending its freedoms.
Can you explain the situation with The Kingdom of Marduk, which has laid claim to Sealand?
If you think we are nuts, he is worse. He appeared out of the depths of the internet!
What future plans do you have for Sealand? Is it up for sale?
We are always open to commercial propositions whatever they may be.
You’ve been in the news in the past for various things, such as having athletes represent Sealand at international events. Do you have any more plans to continue this trend? Can you explain them?
We have just appointed a new head of our football team and expect to be playing in the Viva Games in Gozo in 2010
As the official Head of State, what do your duties consist of?
Answering long emails from people like you and vetting commercial propositions etc!
What is the current set-up, in terms of the rest of the Royal Family?
My sons are now getting involved Prince Royal James and Prince Liam
I understand there is a film in the offing? What is the current situation with this, and what can we expect from it?
The world recession has placed it on hold.
People are hugely surprised when they see pictures of Sealand and when hear that it is a sovereign nation. How do you explain the existence of your nation?
A series of legal blunders by the UK
Recently, you seem to have embraced the online world, through Twitter, Facebook, etc. What is the aim of this?
To raise our profile to the world. Unlike most nations we do not have oil or a large amount of tax payers to support us so we need to create revenue producing projects like our individual noble title initiative. Please mention our website and face book in your article.
Sealand have also been involved in substantial commercial activity, such as the sale of titles. Again, what are you hoping to achieve here? Is it to raise awareness or generate income?
Both see above. It’s an expensive world to live in especially when at sea alone against the world.