HM Fort Roughs was constructed in 1943 during the height of World War II. It was a British sea fort tasked with providing defense against German aircraft that were patrolling the shipping lanes. Today, this same small, floating pontoon base with two towers topped by a deck is the home to the world’s smallest, self-proclaimed, independent nation – Sealand.
HM Fort Roughs, or Sealand as it is known today, sits seven nautical miles from the coast of Suffolk in what used to be international waters. It was occupied by the British Royal Navy until 1956, and it wasn’t until 1967 that the fort became occupied by a new tenant, a British national named Paddy Roy Bates. Bates was a pirate radio broadcaster and wanted to use the platform for his pirate radio station, Radio Essex. Bates then claimed the fort as his territory. In 1968 Bates was pushed into court after confronting men who were near the fort servicing a buoy. The court ruled that since Sealand (what Bates had named it) was outside the three mile water boundary from Great Britain, the area was outside of British jurisdiction. In 1975 Bates took things a step further and introduced a constitution, a national anthem, currency, passports, and a national flag for his new country.
Even though the Principality of Sealand, which sits alone in the North Sea, has been known as the world’s smallest nation or the world’s smallest country, it has never been recognized by any other sovereign nation. One of the reasons it has never been recognized is that the United Kingdom expanded their territorial waters from three miles to twelve in 1987. Sealand then sat in the United Kingdom’s territorial waters. This created a sticky problem. Since the United Kingdom adhered to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which didn’t allow these type of structures to be considered sovereign territory, Sealand was not considered a nation.
This hasn’t stopped the continuance of Sealand. It is currently run by the Bates family, especially Michael Bates, Roy Bates son, who also holds the title of “His Royal Highness Prince Michael”. Roy Bates, who is now deceased, held the title of Prince Roy, and his wife had the title, Princess Joan. Michael Bates now resides in Essex, England and employs caretakers for the upkeep and running of Sealand. As you can see from the pictures, it probably isn’t the most comfortable place to take up residence, even though Roy Bates had done so for many years.
Sealand issued its own currency and postage stamps for a time, and now makes money from selling titles of nobility as well offering knighthoods. Sealand made news in 2000 when they attempted to run a data-hosting company called HavenCo. Essentially it was meant to be an off-shore data storage area where companies or individuals could store and serve data to jurisdictions that prohibited it, but the company never reached its intended purpose.
Many athletes have represented Sealand at sporting events and a Sealand National Football team had been formed, even though it wasn’t recognized by any sporting body. There is a Sealand National Curling Team that plays out of Minnesota, the Sealand Fencing Team that resides at the University of California at Irvine, ultimate Frisbee teams that participate in a variety of tournaments, and an athlete that represented Sealand at the World Cup of Kung Fu, taking home two silver metals. The Sealand flag has even been planted at the top of Mt. Everest.
Sealand was recently up for sale for the low, low price of $906 million. There were no takers. But Sealand’s motto is, E Mare Libertas, or “From the Sea, Freedom”, and it sure looks like they’ve at least been able to continue to do that.