Principality of Sealand

Sealand - Issue #1 (1969) souvenir sheet
Sealand – Issue #1 (1969) souvenir sheet

It has been a long time since I added a new “stamp issuers” article on ASAD as most of my recent collecting activities have revolved around adding to existing collections. A recent acquistion, however, included a large number of stamps from the Geneva and Vienna offices of the United Nations (both of which will feature in their own “issuers” articles in the near future) as well as a mixture of souvenir sheets, mostly from North Korea but also including a copy of Sealand’s first “issue” from 1969.

I would categorize Sealand (or, to use its preferred name — the Principality of Sealamd) first as a “local post”. However, further thought renders the place as more of a “bogus nation”, a man-made structure at that. Does that make these local post stamps or fake stamps (AKA “cinderellas”)?

The Principality of Sealand, is a micronation that claims Roughs Tower, an offshore platform in the North Sea approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometres) off the coast of Suffolk, as its territory. Roughs Tower is a disused Maunsell Sea Fort, originally called HM Fort Roughs, built as an anti-aircraft gun platform by the British during World War II.

Since 1967, the decommissioned HM Fort Roughs has been occupied by family and associates of Paddy Roy Bates, who claim that it is an independent sovereign state. Bates seized it from a group of pirate radiobroadcasters in 1967 with the intention of setting up his own station at the site. He attempted to establish Sealand as a nation state in 1975 with the writing of a national constitution and establishment of other national symbols.

Map of Sealand with territorial waters.

While it has been described as the world’s smallest country, Sealand is not officially recognized by any established sovereign state in spite of Sealand’s government’s claim that it has been de facto recognized by the United Kingdom and Germany. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in force since 1994, states “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf”. Since 1987, Sealand has lain within the United Kingdom’s territorial waters.

Bates moved to the mainland when he became elderly, naming his son, Michael, as regent. Bates died in October 2012 at the age of 91. Michael lives in Suffolk.

In 1943, during World War II, HM Fort Roughs (sometimes called Roughs Tower) was constructed by the United Kingdom as one of the Maunsell Forts, primarily to defend the vital shipping lanes in nearby estuaries against German Navy mine-laying aircraft. It consisted of a floating pontoon base with a superstructure of two hollow towers joined by a deck upon which other structures could be added. The fort was towed to a position above the Rough Sands sandbar, where its base was deliberately flooded to sink it on its final resting place. This is approximately 7 nautical miles (13 km) from the coast of Suffolk, outside the then 3 nmi (6 km) claim of the United Kingdom and, therefore, in international waters. The facility was occupied by 150–300 Royal Navy personnel throughout World War II; the last full-time personnel left in 1956.

Sealand photographed from a helicopter on November 13, 1999.
Sealand photographed from a helicopter on November 13, 1999.

Roughs Tower was occupied in February and August 1965 by Jack Moore and his daughter Jane, squatting on behalf of the pirate station Wonderful Radio London.

On September 2, 1967, the fort was
occupied by Major Paddy Roy Bates, a British subject and pirate radio broadcaster, who ejected a competing group of pirate broadcasters. Bates intended to broadcast his pirate radio station – called Radio Essex – from the platform. Despite having the necessary equipment, he never began broadcasting. Bates declared the independence of Roughs Tower and deemed it the Principality of Sealand.

In 1968, British workmen entered what Bates claimed to be his territorial waters to service a navigational buoy near the platform. Michael Bates (son of Paddy Roy Bates) tried to scare the workmen off by firing warning shots from the former fort. As Bates was a British subject at the time, he was summoned to court in England on firearms charges following the incident. As the court ruled that the platform (which Bates was now calling “Sealand”) was outside British territorial limits, being beyond the then 3-nautical-mile (6 km) limit of the country’s waters, the case could not proceed.

In 1975, Bates introduced a constitution for Sealand, followed by a national flag, a national anthem, a currency and passports.

In August 1978, Alexander Achenbach, who describes himself as the Prime Minister of Sealand, hired several German and Dutch mercenaries to spearhead an attack on Sealand while Bates and his wife were in England. They stormed the platform with speedboats, Jet Skis and helicopters, and took Bates’ son Michael hostage. Michael was able to retake Sealand and capture Achenbach and the mercenaries using weapons stashed on the platform. Achenbach, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held unless he paid DM 75,000 (more than US$35,000 or £23,000). The governments of the Netherlands, Austria and Germany petitioned the British government for his release, but the United Kingdom disavowed his imprisonment, citing the 1968 court decision. Germany then sent a diplomat from its London embassy to Sealand to negotiate for Achenbach’s release. Roy Bates relented after several weeks of negotiations and subsequently claimed that the diplomat’s visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.

Following the former’s repatriation, Achenbach and Gernot Pütz established a government in exile, sometimes known as the Sealand Rebel Government or Sealandic Rebel Government, in Germany. Achenbach’s appointed successor, Johannes Seiger, continues to claim via his website that he is Sealand’s legitimate ruling authority.

In 1997, the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports, including those that they themselves had issued over the previous 22 years. There were thought to have been about 150,000 in circulation.

Sealand several months after the devastating fire of 2006. Photo taken on September 17, 2006
Sealand several months after the devastating fire of 2006. Photo taken on September 17, 2006.

On the afternoon of June 23, 2006, the top platform of the Roughs Tower caught fire due to an electrical fault. A Royal Air Force rescue helicopter transferred one person to Ipswich hospital, directly from the tower. The Harwich lifeboat stood by the Roughs Tower until a local fire tug extinguished the fire. All damage was repaired by November 2006. In January 2007, bit torrent website The Pirate Bay attempted to purchase Sealand after harsher copyright measures in Sweden forced them to look for a base of operations elsewhere. Between 2007 and 2010, Sealand was offered for sale through the Spanish estate company InmoNaranja, at an asking price of €750 million (£600 million, US$906 million).

Roy Bates died at the age of 91 on October 9, 2012; he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. He was succeeded by his son Michael. Joan Bates died in an Essex nursing home at the age of 86 on March 10, 2016.

The claim that Sealand is an independent sovereign state is based on an interpretation of a 1968 decision of an English court, in which it was held that Roughs Tower was in international waters and thus outside the jurisdiction of the domestic courts.

In international law, the most common schools of thought for the creation of statehood are the constitutive and declaratory theories of state creation. The constitutive theory is the standard nineteenth-century model of statehood, and the declaratory theory was developed in the twentieth century to address shortcomings of the constitutive theory. In the constitutive theory, a state exists exclusively via recognition by other states. The theory splits on whether this recognition requires ‘diplomatic recognition’ or merely ‘recognition of existence’. No other state grants Sealand official recognition, but it has been argued by Bates that negotiations carried out by Germany following a brief hostage incident constituted ‘recognition of existence’ (and, since the German government reportedly sent an ambassador to the tower, diplomatic recognition). In the declaratory theory of statehood, an entity becomes a state as soon as it meets the minimal criteria for statehood. Therefore, recognition by other states is purely ‘declaratory’.

In 1987, the UK extended its territorial waters from 3 to 12 nautical miles (6 to 22 km). Sealand now sits inside British waters. The United Kingdom is one of 165 parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (in force since 1994), which states in Part V, Article 60, that: ‘Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf’. In the opinion of law academic John Gibson, there is little chance that Sealand would be recognized as a nation because it is a man-made structure.

In a 1990 court case (and a 1991 appeal) in the United States regarding registering ships in Sealand as a flag of convenience, the court ruled against allowing Sealand flagged vessels; the case was never contested by the Bateses.

Michael Bates, current Prince of the Principality of Sealand, posing with his book in 2015.

Irrespective of its legal status, Sealand is managed by the Bates family as if it were a recognised sovereign entity and they are its hereditary royal rulers. Roy Bates styled himself as ‘Prince Roy’ and his wife ‘Princess Joan’. Their son is known as ‘His Royal Highness Prince Michael’ and has been referred to as the ‘Prince regent’ by the Bates family since 1999. In this role, he apparently serves as Sealand’s acting ‘Head of State’ and also its ‘Head of Government’. At a micronations conference hosted by the University of Sunderland in 2004, Sealand was represented by Michael Bates’ son James. The facility is now occupied by one or more caretakers representing Michael Bates, who himself resides in Essex, England.

Sealand’s constitution was instituted in 1974. It consists of a preamble and seven articles. The preamble asserts Sealand’s independence, while the articles variously deal with 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. Sealand’s legal system is claimed to follow British common law, and statutes take the form of decrees enacted by the sovereign. Sealand has issued “fantasy passports” (as termed by the Council of the European Union), which are not valid for international travel, and holds the Guinness World Record for ‘the smallest area to lay claim to nation status’.

Sealand’s motto is E Mare Libertas (From the Sea, Freedom). It appears on Sealandic items – such as stamps, passports and coins – and is the title of the Sealandic anthem. The anthem was composed by Londoner Basil Simonenko; being an instrumental anthem, it does not have lyrics. In 2005, the anthem was recorded by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and released on their CD National Anthems of the World, Vol. 7: Qatar – Syria.

Sealand has been involved in several commercial operations, including the issuing of coins and postage stamps and the establishment of an offshore Internet hosting facility, or ‘data haven’. Sealand also has an official website and publishes an online newspaper, Sealand News. In addition, a number of amateur athletes ‘represent’ Sealand in sporting events, including unconventional events like the World Egg Throwing Championship, which the Sealand team won in 2008.

Sealand is not recognized by any major international sporting body, and its population is insufficient to maintain a team composed entirely of Sealanders in any team sport. However, Sealand claims to have official national athletes, including non-Sealanders. These athletes take part in various sports, such as curling, mini-golf, football, fencing, ultimate, table football and athletics, although all its teams compete out of the country. The Sealand National Football Association is an associate member of the Nouvelle Fédération-Board, a football sanctioning body for non-recognised states and states not members of FIFA. It administers the Sealand national football team. In 2004 the national team played its first international game against Åland Islands national football team, drawing 2–2.

Sealand also sells titles of individual nobility including Lord, Baron, Count and those titles’ distaff equivalents. Following Roy Bates’ 2012 death, Sealand also began publicly offering knighthoods and Coats of Arms.

In 1978, following the invasion, the Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Sealand were formed by Prince Roy and Prince Michael to provide for the Principality’s defense should it come under threat or attack. In 2012, following the death of Prince Roy, membership in the Order was opened to sale to the public.

In 2000, worldwide publicity was created about Sealand following the establishment of a new entity called HavenCo, a data haven, which effectively took control of Roughs Tower itself. The company announced that it had become operational in December 2000 and that its Acceptable Use Policy prohibited child pornography, spamming, and malicious hacking — but that all other content was acceptable. It claimed that it had no restrictions on copyright or intellectual property for data hosted on its servers, arguing that as Sealand was not a member of the World Trade Organization or WIPO, international intellectual property law did not apply. Other services available from HavenCo at the time included IT consulting, systems administration, offshore software development, and electronic mail services. Later policies specified, “No pornography that would be considered illegal within the EU,” and “No infringement of copyright.”

Ryan Lackey, HavenCo’s founder, later quit and claimed that Bates had lied to him by keeping the 1990–1991 court case from him and that, as a result, he had lost the money he had invested in the venture. In November 2008, operations of HavenCo ceased without explanation.

Sealand’s coins and postage stamps are denominated in ‘Sealand dollars’, which it deems to be at parity with the US dollar.

Sealand coins

Several dozen different Sealand coins have been minted since 1972. The first to be minted was a SX$10 coin with a mintage of 2000. More coins were minted in 1975 and 1977, introducing the SX$20 and SX$100 coins. The SX$10 was minted in 925‰ fine silver, the SX$20 was minted in silver, and the SX$100 was minted in 900‰ fine gold. In the early 1990s, Achenbach’s German group also produced a coin, featuring a likeness of ‘Prime Minister Seiger”.

In 1994, the “Treasures of the Sea” Sealand dollars were minted, with an orca (killer whale) on the reverse. The SX$0.25, SX$0.5, SX$1, SX$2.5 and SX$5 were also introduced. The SX$0.25 was minted in bronze and 999‰ fine silver; the SX$0.5 was minted in cupronickel and silver; the SX$1 and SX$2.5 in bronze, silver and gold; and the SX$5 was minted in gold.

Sealand first issued postage stamps in 1969. The first issue included seven stamps portraying explorers:

  • Vasco da Gama 1497 – 2c (later 10c)
  • Christopher Columbus 1492 – 3c (later 10c)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh 1584 – 5c (later 5c)
  • Sir Francis Drake 1588 – 6c (later 10c)
  • Captain James Cook 1770 – 14c (later 10c)
  • Ferdinand Magellan 1519 – 20c (later 20c)
  • Sir Martin Frobisher 1578 – 50c (later 10c)

These were also released in a souvenir sheet bearing all seven stamps. Issues also appeared in 1970 (ships and fish), 1975 (International Women’s Year), and 1977 (explorers’ ships, the Sealand coat of arms, as well as Roy and Joan Bates). No further stamps were produced until three appeared in 2010.

Sealand is not a member of the Universal Postal Union, therefore its inward address is a PO Box in the United Kingdom. Once an item is mailed to Sealand’s tourist and government office, it will then be taken to Sealand. Sealand only has one street address, The Row.

A Sealand mailing address looks like this:

Bureau of Internal Affairs
5, The Row
(c/o Sealand Post Bag, IP11 9SZ, UK)

Flag of Sealand
Sealand coat of arms

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