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The Principality of Sealand is a self-declared independent micronation constructed on Roughs Tower[?], an abandoned WWII offshore fortress in the North Sea six miles off the coast of Suffolk, England (51°53'40"N, 1°28'57"E). Sealand's legal status has been actively under debate since shortly after construction of the fortress, and to this day is not fully resolved.

Roughs Tower, constructed in 1942 and inhabited by 150-300 UK Royal Navy personnel, had been deserted since the end of World War II. On September 2, 1967, the fort was occupied by Paddy Roy Bates[?], a British subject and pirate radio broadcaster, who claimed it as his own. At that time, the United Kingdom claimed territorial waters of three nautical miles from its coast. Thus, Roughs Tower was in international waters[?], outside the territorial jurisdiction of any state. After consulting with several lawyers, 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 -- Prince Roy and Princess Joan.

In 1968, the British navy attempted to evict the new inhabitants of Roughs Tower. Prince Roy responded by firing several shots at the vessels, and as a result was summoned to a British court. The court delivered its decision on November 25, 1968: since the incident happened outside of British territory, it was outside of the court's jurisdiction. The UK government continued to harass the occupants of Sealand for 15 years with a series of litigations involving payment of social security taxes, television licensing, and other matters, but the court has consistently ruled Sealand was not a part of the United Kingdom.

In 1978, while Prince Roy was away, a German man and several Dutch citizens forcibly took over Roughs Tower and held Prince Roy's son, Michael, captive, releasing Michael several days later in the Netherlands. Prince Roy enlisted some well-armed help and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fortress. He held the invaders, claiming them as prisoners of war. The ringleader of the invasion, a German citizen, had previously been granted a Sealand passport, and was charged by Prince Roy with treason against Sealand and imprisoned on Sealand indefinitely; the Dutch participants in the invasion were repatriated at the cessation of the "war." 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 their citizen's release. After several weeks, Prince Roy released his prisoners, and claimed that the visit by the diplomat constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.

Sealand's claims of de jure and de facto recognition have repeatedly been analyzed by law professors and others. One set of criteria for statehood under international law is contained in the Montevideo Convention, namely a defined territory, permanent population, government and the capacity to enter into relationships with other states. 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 taken into account. Similar arguments can be made with respect to the other three Montevideo convention criteria.

A legal argument against the statehood of Sealand exists in the constitutive theory of recognition (a theory widely but not universally accepted in international law), which states that recognition by other states is a condition for statehood. Since no other state recognizes the existence of Sealand, Sealand is not a state under the theory's criteria.

Sealand believes it has de facto recognition. De facto recognition is derived from actions and contacts between two states if they enter into a relationship on a political level. The following acts shall inter alia be considered acts of this nature:

  1. diplomatic activities by representatives of the states involved in connection with tasks between states, relationships etc.;
  2. statements of a state on politically relevant issues and problems of the other state such as statement on mutual delimitation;
  3. recognition and official endorsement with a visa of passports issued by the other state as traveling documents.

In addition, the opinions of internationally renowned experts on international law are considered a justification of the claim to the existence of a state -- at least as a fundamental statement. The claim to the existence of a state might be a unilateral act at first on the basis of such an expert opinion; acts in terms of the above-mentioned examples, however, also turn this claim into a "de facto" recognition.

Since the 1968 court decision, both the United Kingdom and Sealand have extended its territorial sea to twelve nautical miles, in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Several legal challenges in the UK subsequent to that date have reaffirmed Sealand's status as being outside the UK, although the question of Sealand's sovereignty was not judged. These cases include a firearms incident in 1990, where Prince Roy fired upon the Royal Maritime Auxiliary vessel "Golden Eye". The vessel believed itself to be under attack and radioed the Thames Coastguard, and the vessel retreated.

Additionally, despite passing highly restrictive legislation such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act[?], the UK Government has made no efforts to regulate communications or require records from computer servers located on Sealand.

The United Kingdom has not made any efforts to assert its authority over Roughs Tower, and appears to have a government policy of refraining 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 nixed by the Prime Minister due to potential for loss of life, and concomitant legal and public relations disaster.

Sealand has several ancillary features of a state, including a constitution, a flag, a national anthem, a national motto (E mare libertas, Latin for "From the Sea, Freedom"), postage stamps, currency (1 Sealand dollar equaling 1 US dollar), and passports. Forged Sealand passports (genuine passports are not for sale) have been widely sold and have been involved in several high-profile crimes, including the murder of Gianni Versace[?].

Legal quandaries similar to the statehood of Sealand are no longer possible today. Since the third conference on the laws of the sea[?], the nearest neighboring state is now required to consent to the construction of any artificial island pursuant to the convention on the laws of the sea of the United Nations on December 10, 1982, in Montego Bay[?]. Moreover, this convention requires the neighboring state to pull down the artificial constructions immediately after use or to have them removed.

According to this convention, there is no transitional law and no possibility to consent to the existence of such a construction which was previously approved or built by the neighboring state. This means that it is unimaginable that a case like Sealand will ever occur again. 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 territorial waters.

Roy's son Michael entered into a partnership with Ryan Lackey, founder of HavenCo, to use Sealand as an electronic data haven, offering colocation. HavenCo has been running services from Sealand since May 2000.

Population: 5-10

Table of contents

Legal opinions regarding Sealand

  • Vitanyi, Bela. 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



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