October 14, 2012


Prince Roy of Sealand (The Telegraph, 10/11/12)

Prince Roy of Sealand, who has died aged 91, was plain Roy Bates until, on Christmas Eve 1966, he established his own micro-nation on an abandoned wartime sea fort off the Suffolk coast and declared himself head of state.

A year earlier, on the nearby Knock John fortified tower in the North Sea, Bates had established Radio Essex, claiming it as Britain's first 24-hour pirate pop station, only to see it swiftly closed down by the Labour government.

After taking legal advice, Bates bought HM Fort Roughs, another derelict artillery installation, anchored to a sandbar just outside British territorial waters; but before he could revive his radio transmissions, the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act of 1967 outlawed the employment of British citizens by pirate stations. Embracing the ancient legal doctrine of jus gentium, Bates declared independence. Henceforth, he announced, he would be known as Prince Roy and his principality would be Sealand. He refurbished the platform, abandoned by the British military in the 1950s, and moved there with his wife and two children.

It was not long, however, before his bleak windswept hulk, with its twin towers of steel-reinforced concrete spanned by a 5,920 sq ft rusting iron platform some seven miles off Felixstowe, became not only res derelicta but terra nullius -- effectively disputed territory. When the rival Radio Caroline claimed the platform for itself, Bates and his crew repelled a boarding party with Molotov cocktails and warning shots.

In 1967 government ministers sent the military to destroy several other wartime forts that had been abandoned in international waters. Bates and his family watched as explosions sent the huge structures cartwheeling hundreds of feet in the air. Helicopters carrying explosives buzzed overhead, and from a Royal Navy tug carrying a demolition squad came shouts of "You're next!"

A year later, when the Royal Maritime auxiliary vessel Golden Eye passed close by, three warning shots were fired across her bow before she turned and raced for the shore. Bates was summonsed under the Firearms Act and in November 1968 appeared in the dock at Essex Assizes.

Amid much legal argument, statutes dating from the 17th century were cited. Summing up, the judge at Chelmsford remarked on "this swashbuckling incident perhaps more akin to the time of Sir Francis Drake", but decided that, since Sealand lay outside British territorial waters, the courts had no jurisdiction. As far as Bates was concerned, this was Sealand's first de facto recognition.

Posted by at October 14, 2012 7:46 AM

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