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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sealand - World Smallest Country

The Principality of Sealand is a micronation (a self-declared but unrecognised state-like entity) that claims as its territory Roughs Tower, a former Maunsell Sea Fort located in the North Sea 10 km (six miles) off the coast of Suffolk, England, at 51°53′40″N, 1°28′57″E, as well as territorial waters in a twelve-nautical-mile radius. Sealand is occupied by the family and associates of Paddy Roy Bates. The population of the facility rarely exceeds ten, and its inhabitable area is 550 m² (5920 sq. ft).

Since 1967, the installation has been occupied by the associates and family members of Paddy Roy Bates, a former radio broadcaster and former British Army Major, who claims it is a sovereign and independent state.[1] Critics, as well as court rulings in the United States and in Germany, have claimed that Roughs Tower has always remained the property of the United Kingdom, a view that is disputed by the Bates family.
Sealand's claims to sovereignty and legitimacy are not recognised by any country, yet it is sometimes cited[1] in debates as an interesting case study of how various principles of international law can be applied to a territorial dispute.

In 1942, during World War II, HM Fort Roughs was constructed by the UK as one of the Maunsell Sea Forts. It comprised a floating pontoon base with a superstructure of two hollow towers joined by a deck upon which other structures could be added. The fort was towed to a position above Rough Sands sandbar where its base was intentionally flooded so that it sank to a resting place on the sandbar. The location chosen was in international waters, approximately six miles from the coast of Suffolk, outside the then three-mile territorial water claim of the United Kingdom.

The facility (termed Roughs Tower) was occupied by 150–300 Royal Navy personnel throughout World War II; post war it was not until 1956 that the last full-time personnel were taken off HM Fort Roughs and marking of its position as a shipping hazard was left to Trinity House. On September 2, 1967, the fort was occupied by Major Paddy Roy Bates, a British subject and pirate radio broadcaster, who ejected a competing group of pirate broadcasters and claimed sovereignty on the basis of his interpretation of international law (see Legal status).

In 1967–8 Britain's Royal Navy tried to remove Bates. As they entered territorial waters, Bates tried to scare them off by firing warning shots from the former fort. As Bates was a British citizen at the time, he was summoned to court in England following the incident. The court ruled in Bates' favour that Sealand was outside British jurisdiction as it was beyond the three-mile limit of the country's waters.[citation needed] In 1975, Roy of Sealand introduced a constitution, followed by a flag, a national anthem, a currency and passports.

In 1978, while Bates was away, the Prime Minister of Sealand, Alexander G. Achenbach, and several German and Dutch citizens staged a forcible takeover of Roughs Tower, holding Bates' son Michael captive, before releasing him several days later in the Netherlands.
Bates thereupon enlisted armed assistance and, in a helicopter assault, retook the fortress. He then held the invaders captive, claiming them as prisoners of war. Most participants in the invasion were repatriated at the cessation of the "war", but Gernot Pütz, a German lawyer who held a Sealand passport, was charged with treason against Sealand and was held unless he paid DM 75,000 (more than £18,000). 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 from its London embassy to Roughs Tower to negotiate for Pütz's release, and after several weeks Roy Bates relented, subsequently claiming that the diplomat's visit constituted de facto recognition of Sealand by Germany, though Germany has not commented on this interpretation.
Following his repatriation, Achenbach established an "exile government" in Germany, in opposition to Roy Bates, assuming the name "Chairman of the Privy Council". Upon Achenbach's resignation for health reasons in August 1989, the rebel government's "Minister for Economic Co-operation", Johannes Seiger, assumed control, with the position of "Prime Minister and Chairman of the Privy Council". Seiger continues to claim that he is Sealand's legitimate ruling authority.

Sealand claims the waters surrounding Roughs Tower to the extent of twelve nautical miles,[2] and it has claimed to have physically defended this claim on at least one occasion: in an incident in 1990, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary vessel Golden Eye was fired upon from Sealand.
For a period, Sealand passports were mass-manufactured and sold widely (mostly to Eastern Europeans) by a Spanish-based group believed to be associated with the exile government under Seiger. These passports, which were not authorised by the Bates family, were linked to several high-profile crimes, including the murder of Gianni Versace. Due to the massive quantity of illegal passports in circulation (estimated at 150,000), in 1997 the Bates family revoked all Sealand passports, including those that they themselves had issued in the previous thirty years.

In early 2007 Sealand was offered for sale.[2] As a principality cannot technically be sold, Sealand's current "owners" plan to "transfer" custodianship.