Unrecognised and smaller than Vatican City: the Principality of Sealand
According to the United Nations there are 195 sovereign countries around the world with their own culture, political and economic system.
Countries differ in sizes, with Russia being the largest country of them all taking up 11% of the world’s landmass. On the other end of the spectrum we also have smallest country in the world with a land area of 0.44 square kilometres and a population of less than a thousand people, which is Vatican City. Small countries like Vatican City are often also called microstates with another fairly good example of a microstate being Monaco. These small countries are sovereign states and are politically recognised as a country by other countries, but there are “countries” that are even smaller.
Besides microstates there are also micronations, countries that claim sovereignty but are not legally recognised by world governments and international organizations. One of these microstates is the Principality of Sealand, with a population of 27 people and a laughable size of 550 square meters.
Part of the reason why Sealand is considered a micronation and not a microstate is because the “land” it occupies is manmade. The micronation is built on World War II remnant HM Fort Roughs, which was constructed and placed 11 kilometres from the British coast to keep shipping lanes clear of sea-mines that were getting dropped by German aircraft. The fort is one of four that were built by the British navy to protect the harbour of Harwich and it remained operational until 1956.
The fort was abandoned by the armed forces and remained that way until it was occupied by pirate radio broadcasters in 1965.
When the 60’s rolled around young people around the West started to cast aside the post-war mundanity and replaced it with rock music, pop-art and pop music and many other genres that came to be. This period in history was a transitional one and came with plenty of growing pains. Radio stations at that time were not interested in playing these new sounds or they limited it to a small portion of the things they aired. That is where pirate radio stepped in, they often set up shop in international waters where they were outside of national jurisdiction and could play whatever they wanted. A Dutch example of this is Radio Veronica, a once ship-based radio station that aired their tunes from the international waters of the North Sea.
Roy Bates, a British army Major had his own pirate radio station named Radio Essex that was situated on a navy fortress identical to Fort Roughs, but it was said to fall under British jurisdiction.
That is why Roy Bates ended up on Fort Roughs in 1966 with the idea of breathing new life into his radio station.
A year later though, the broadcasting seized and Bates declared the fort an independent state under the name Municipality of Sealand. Directly after the declaration all other forts were blown up by the British military to prevent more of these “states” from popping up. A government vessel was then dispatched to Sealand with the idea of chasing the Bates family and friends off the platform. The Bates family fired warning shots and the vessel turned tail. With Roy and his son Michael being British citizens they were summoned to court but the case concerning the use of a firearm was dismissed because 11 kilometres from shore the UK courts had no jurisdiction. In the years that followed a constitution, a currency, a national flag and anthem, as well as passports were brought to life by the Sealanders and distributed.
In the late 70’s, a German lawyer named Alexander Achenbach had a disagreement with Bates over the idea of turning Sealand into a hotel and casino. This resulted in Achenbach trying to take the micronation by force while Michael Bates was the only person on the fort. He was taken hostage but managed to reverse the roles, keeping Achenbach captive on the island until he paid a large sum of
money. A German diplomat was sent to negotiate over Achenbach’s release, which took a few weeks. Achenbach then went on to create the Sealand government in exile in Germany, also known as the Sealand Rebel Government in 1987.
Then, in 1997 the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports including their own, because an international money laundering ring was selling fake Sealand passports to finance money laundering and drug trafficking in Russia and Iraq. Beyond that, the organization was also reported to have used fake Sealandic license plates, claiming diplomatic immunity under the Sealandic flag and the selling of fake Sealand passports. Another thing that stands out in Sealand’s history is the time in which the micronation came up for sale between 2007 and 2010. The Swedish website known as The Pirate Bay that supplied the mases with free entertainment media and software tried to buy the nation but failed to do so because of the €750 million asking price.
Today the small nation is ruled by Prince Michael Bates and it holds the Guiness World Record for “being the smallest area to lay claim to nation status.” Beyond that, a Sealandic flag has been waving in the wind at the summit of Mount Everest since it was placed there by Kenton Cool in 2013 and, Simon Messenger ran a half-marathon on Sealand as part of his “round the world in 80 runs” challenge in 2015. Lastly, in 2018 Richard Royal was awarded a Sealand Knighthood for being the first person to swim the 12 kilometres from the mainland to Sealand. He did this in 3 hours and 29 minutes.