Thursday, October 11, 2012

His Royal Highness Roy Bates, Prince of Sealand (1921-2012), Father of Micronation and Seasteading Movements

Maj. Paddy Roy Bates, an English former pirate radio broadcaster in the North Sea who turned a crumbling Second World War derrick off the East Anglian coast into a self-proclaimed principality called Sealand, died in a nursing home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, on October 9th at the age of 91.  He is indisputably the father of the modern “micronations” movement and of the futuristic concept of “seasteading” which utopians from across the political spectrum are eyeing as a way to remake society in the 21st century.  As Prince Roy, he handed the reigns of his monarchy to his son, Prince Michael as “Prince Regent as Sovereign pro tempore” in 1999.
Prince Roy and Princess Joan
Despite its name, Sealand, though it is in the sea, has no land, and thus falls between the cracks of the understanding of what “territory” is in international law (an ambiguity which seasteading aims to exploit).  It is a 550-square-meter (5,920-square-foot) floating pontoon originally called the H. M. Fort Roughs, ten kilometers off the coast of Suffolk, in southeastern England.  In the 1960s, Bates, a former fisherman and World War II veteran, with several others started up a pirate radio station on the structure, but a dispute between factions in the tiny, cramped community required the intervention of the Royal Marines in 1967.  To Bates’s surprise, a British court the following year found him immune to prosecution because the Fort Roughs was on the high seas, was disused (not “flagged”), and thus outside all legal jurisdictions.  This got him thinking, and soon he named himself Prince Roy and named the derrick the Principality of Sealand.

The flag of Sealand
While generally hosting only a skeleton crew of residents, thousands worldwide have Sealandic passports, and the nation produces currency and stamps.  No nations other than similarly unrecognized micronations grant it diplomatic recognition.

Sealand’s coat-of-arms
However, the United Kingdom has made a tacit policy of not interfering with its sovereignty, such as it is.  And Prince Roy regarded the outcome of a messy coup d’état in 1978 as a kind of de facto recognition by foreign powers.  In that series of events, the Sealandic prime minister, A. G. Achenbach, briefly took power while Prince Roy was away on the British mainland.  Achenbach and a gang of German and Dutch soldiers of fortune took Prince Michael hostage before Roy mustered a rescue squad of speedboats and helicopters (including one chopper, the rumor goes, piloted by a former James Bond body double).  Roy had Achenbach and his conspirators tried for treason on Sealand.  The Federal Republic of Germany (then merely West Germany) and the Kingdom of the Netherlands sent diplomats to London to negotiate their citizens’ release, but the Crown wanted nothing to do with it: Sealand wasn’t in the U.K.  So Bonn and Amsterdam had to negotiate directly with Prince Roy—a fact which he regarded as his own coup of sorts.

The royal couple
Furthermore, in 1987 the U.K. extended its territorial waters from 3 miles offshore to 10 miles offshore, putting Sealand technically within its territorial waters.  The fact that the U.K. still does not press a claim on Sealand is another kind of de facto recognition.

Sealand has come on the radar of this blog in the past, most notably in February of this year when it was reported that Julian Assange was thinking of relocating WikiLeaks servers there.  (See the article “WikiLeaks Mulls Moving Its Servers to Sealand to Dodge National Laws,” from this blog.)  That did not end up happening—possibly because Roy realized this might prompt the U.K. to finally make moves against Sealand.  Also, legal experts say that prosecutions under laws forbidding activities such as Assange’s leaks of information and violations of privacy can’t be dodged simply by virtue of where one’s servers are located.  (Currently, Assange is holed up in another not-quite-British scrap of British territory, the Republic of Ecuador’s embassy in London.)

A coin of the realm
This blog has also reported on Sealand’s exhibition football (soccer) matches against teams from the Chagos Islands’ diaspora community and against Alderney (an island in the U.K.’s autonomous Bailiwick of Guernsey, just around the bend in the English Channel).  The Sealandic team typically features the television comedian Ralf Little, an avocational footballer and a passport-holding Sealander.
Prince Michael commented to the media this week about his father, “He was an extremely intelligent and active man and he developed Alzheimer’s, which he would have absolutely hated, and he barely recognized his family over the last few years.  My father will always be remembered for shaking up the establishment with pirate radio, declaring Sealand’s independence and confronting the Royal Navy and other foreign governments.”

His Royal Highness is survived by the Prince Regent Michael (now Prince Sovereign), his widow Princess Joan, a daughter Penny, and four grandchildren.

Prince Michael.  The prince is dead.  Long live the prince.
[You can read more about Sealand and other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]

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