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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 has not been formally recognized by any government in the world, but has been largely left alone by neighboring countries, and the legal status of Sealand continues to be under debate. The principality's finances are largely dependent on HavenCo.

Principality of Sealand
(In Detail) (Full size)
National motto: E mare libertas (Latin: Freedom from the sea)
Official language English
Sovereign Prince Roy of Sealand (self-styled; sometimes Princess Joan is said to be joint sovereign)
Head of State Prince Regent Michael of Sealand (self-styled)
 - Total
 - % water
(Not ranked)
? km²
 - Total (2002)
 - Density
(Not ranked)
1 (Prince Michael; but there are 14 government employers, perhaps not all posted in Sealand)
 - Date
Day of Declaration of Independence, 2 September 1967
Currency Sealand dollar ('SX$', 'SXD'?) pegged to USD
Time zone UTC
Internet TLD none
Calling Code?

Table of contents
1 History
2 Is it a real country?
3 Domestic law
4 Princes of Sealand
5 Postal trivia
6 References
7 See also
8 External links


Roughs Tower, constructed in 1942 by the UK 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.

Prince Roy and Princess Joan
in the late-1960s

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 prisoner, and claimed that the visit by the diplomat constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany.

Is it a real country?

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.

The Principality of Sealand

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, 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, but Lackey left HavenCo in 2002.

Domestic law

Roy of Sealand claimed sovereignty and declared independence since 2 September 1967, and later chartered a Sealand State Corporation charged with the development of the state. The legal system is said to follow common law.


Roy has enforced a constitution in 1995 with a preamble 7 articles, summarized here:

Structure of government

Outside the Sovereign and the Head of State (at the moment Prince Michael), the government entities are the Senate (per Article 2, Constitution) the Advocate-General (not prescribed in the Constitution; compare Article 3 thereof), the Sealand Guard (per Article 5, Constitution), and the Office of the Head of State. The last, in turn, has 3 bureaux: the Bureau of External Affairs (not in the constitution; compare Article 4 thereof), the Bureau of Internal Affairs, and the Bureau of Posts Telecomms and Technology (sic; see Postal code).

The judiciary

The chief of the Bureau of Internal Affairs said in a letter to a Wikipedia editor that '(the Advocate-General) may call tribunals in appropriate circumstances'. As little media/press report is available about Sealand matters, it is not clear, in practice, whether the Tribunal constitutionally prescribed or the (perhaps ad hoc) tribunals Advocate-General calls are typical. Note that in any case, per the constitution, ultimate judicial power rests in the Sovereign.


Per the Constitution (Article 2) statutes are enacted by the Sovereign. They appear to take the form of Decrees, such as 'Companies Decree 2000' and 'e-Commerce Decree 2000' (each is available at SX$20 from the Bureau of Internal Affairs). The official website also displays several Statutory Notices.

Legal profession

The Bureau of Internal Affairs vets and registers qualified legal professionals to practice Sealand law.

Princes of Sealand

Postal trivia

Sealand postage stamps are used on (at least) some correspondence from the government bureaux and cancelled by Sealand; the (United Kingdom postal service) Royal Mail then cancels them with marks saying 'revenue protection'. The address for 2 of the bureaux is 'Sealand 1001; Sealand Post Bag, IP11 9SZ, UK'. The Royal Mail postcode is the one for Felixstowe near Ipswich, and the Royal Mail website gives the following standardized address: 'Sealand Fort, PO Box 3, FELIXSTOWE, IP11 9SZ'.


Legal opinions regarding Sealand

See also

External links