During World War II, the English Channel and North Sea were, understandably, thoroughfares of war. These bodies of water, together, separated England from mainland Europe, and the United Kingdom took advantage of the terrestrial barriers by building sea forts housed with troops and artillery. One of these sea forts, Roughs Tower, was built above a sandbar (called Rough Sands) roughly seven miles off shore. Made of two hollow towers joined by a deck, Roughs Tower housed between 150 and 300 naval personnel throughout the War, and remained in use through 1956.
Roughs Tower was one of many sea forts, but two factors made it unique: First, the other bases were pulled down after the British navy was done using them. Second, Roughs Tower is in international waters.
And these two factors proved important. More than a decade after it was last used by the military, Roughs Tower found itself in use again. In late 1967, Major Paddy Roy Bates, a pirate radio broadcaster, occupied the fort with the intention of broadcasting his radio station from there. He didn’t stop there. Realizing that he was in international waters, Bates turned Roughs Tower into — at least in his view — a sovereign nation, The Principality of Sealand, with Bates bestowing upon himself the title Prince Roy of Sealand.
The next year, Bates took action to protect his perceived independence. Workmen entered Sealand’s territorial waters to repair a navigation buoy, and Bates’ son, Michael, took this as an act of aggression (Sealand’s website states that “[u]nits of the navy entered the territorial waters claimed by Roy of Sealand”). Michael fired warning shots at the workmen-turned-trespassers, who fled. Being a British subject at the time, Michael was brought up on charges, but the British court determined that the courts had no jurisdiction over the incident because it occurred outside of Britain’s ordinary territorial limits.
Sealand uses this finding as Exhibit A in arguing that other nations have recognized its sovereignty. In fact, Britain itself once relied on the decision to disavow itself of responsibility for Sealand’s actions. In 1978, a group of Dutch men, hired by a German citizen named Alexander Achenbach, attacked the island/platform/nation and took Michael Bates hostage. Roy Bates, with the help of his own mercenaries, was able to retake Roughs Tower, but refused to release the Achenbach, who held a Sealand passport. Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands petitioned the British government for help, but the UK declined citing the 1968 decision above. Achenbach was eventually released, per Sealand’s official history, as to “not bloody the reputation of Sealand”.
Since then? Sealand still exists, under the reign of the Bates family, although as of January 2007, they’re looking to “sell” the country. (They probably won’t accept Sealand issued coins, pictured below.) Or, at least, turn their story into a movie.
Related: Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations by John Ryan. Four and a half stars on 9 reviews.