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Based on the 1933 Montevideo Convention, there are four criteria to becoming an internationally recognized state – a defined territory, a permanent population or people, some kind of government and the ability to participate in relations with other countries. With this in mind, many “micronations” have popped up since then, with most not expecting to be taken seriously. But one does – the Principality of Sealand.
Sealand isn’t even “land” per se. Only reachable by boat, Sealand is actually a metal platform off the coast of England that served as a British sea fort during World War II. With this piece of “territory,” a permanent population (of one person), a constitution and a government, it meets the Montevideo Convention criteria. It’s led by its only resident, Prince Michael of Sealand. And it even has a national anthem and a motto, “From the Sea, Freedom.”
The fort that’s now Sealand was abandoned in 1956. With England’s territory only stretching just 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) into the North Sea, Sealand is in international waters, about 11 kilometers (7 miles) off the coast. In 1966, a former British Army major, Paddy Roy Bates, ended up there. He’d been running a pirate radio station off the British shore, but the government began cracking down on these illegal stations in the 60s. To work around these laws, Bates moved his station outside of British territory onto the abandoned sea fort platform in international waters. He declared this platform the Principality of Sealand, and then, later, his whole family ended up moving there – including his son, Prince Michael.
“I was only 14 when I first came out during my school summer holidays to help my dad, and I thought it’d only be a six-week adventure,” Prince Michael told the BBC. “I certainly didn’t think it’d be a story that’d carry on for 50-odd years. It was a strange upbringing, as sometimes we stayed for months on end, waiting for the boat to bring supplies from the mainland.”
Sealand has a very storied history. In 1978, a German citizen claiming to be the “Prime Minister of Sealand” tried to seize Sealand while Bates was away. Bates staged a helicopter attack to reclaim it, and he held this other guy captive. Germany attempted negotiations with the UK, but the British said that Sealand wasn’t theirs. So, Germany had to negotiate directly with Sealand (or Bates) to get their citizen returned. Bates saw these negotiations as legitimizing Sealand’s claim as a sovereign nation.