Flying the flag at Sealand

ExclusiveIT was a dream which began in the swinging 60s and it is still going strong today. Sealand, the independent 'mini-state' seven miles off Felixstowe, is celebrating its 40th birthday.

Exclusive

IT was a dream which began in the swinging 60s and it is still going strong today. Sealand, the independent 'mini-state' seven miles off Felixstowe, is celebrating its 40th birthday. Felixstowe editor RICHARD CORNWELL looks back at a turbulent history and what the future holds.

SEALAND has packed more battles, controversies, incident and mystery into four decades than most nations manage in centuries.

Seven wars - including hand-to-hand combat and bombardments with firebombs - plus political prisoners, and police investigations into murder, fraud, arms dealing, and drug trafficking have provided it with a colourful history, chequered enough to match any of the most volatile hot-spots around the world..


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On top of that there have been fabulous schemes to build a North Sea holiday island complex on reclaimed seabed around the principality, run a TV station hosted by page three girl Suzanne Mitzi, and use it as base for an offshore casino.

Last year all those dreams nearly came to an end when a fire caused £500,000 damage to the mini-state, which can be seen from Felixstowe seafront.

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But after a year of refurbishment work, it is now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Although not recognised by the British government - which has chosen to ignore it - Sealand claims to be the world's smallest country.

It has its own rulers, constitution, laws, coins, stamps, flag, national anthem and passports.

Creating a separate country on the old world war two anti-aircraft fort Roughs Tower was the dream of “Paddy” Roy Bates who served in the British Army, rising to the rank of Major.

Originally he and his wife Joan, a former beauty queen, were intent on using it as a base for pirate radio. Others liked that idea, too, and a series of skirmishes followed with those who also wanted to lay claim to the tower - which at that time stood in international waters.

Then in 1967 Maj Bates declared it to be the Principality of Sealand and gave himself the title HRH Prince Roy of Sealand. He poured millions into Sealand, transforming the inside of the ugly, wind-battered concrete slab balanced on two giant pillars into a luxurious palace for his family.

“It's taken a long time to achieve my ambition but I always knew I'd win,” said Prince Roy, now 85.

“Nobody took me seriously at first, but my lawyer told me I had a legal right to stay on Sealand and make it my principality.

“From that day I have been determined to prove the point. I never imagined I would have such a devil of a job, but I don't regret a moment of it.

“It's been a huge adventure. We've had a privileged life even if we have had to invent our own privileges. We fought for liberty and won. Isn't that everybody's dream?”

Prince Roy's son, Prince Regent Michael Bates said it had been a fascinating 40 years.

“I was telling my daughter some of the things which happened in the early years and she said, 'Dad, but that was nearly half a century ago!' and I suppose it is,” he said.

“It has been an incredible adventure and it is quite something to have reached 40 years - we have been thinking about celebrations and thought we might throw a party or issue a new set of stamps.

“While the government still says it doesn't recognise Sealand, it doesn't do anything about us. We used to have all these stories of Whitehall was going to send in the marines, but nothing ever happens. I think we have become something of an institution.”

The family had been looking back and reflecting on the past four decades.

“When we first used to started we were so isolated - we had no communications with the outside world at all. No we have mobile phones and radios and the internet,” he said.

“There was a real buzz. Although we never broadcasted from there, it was the drive to have pirate radio which took us to the tower. They were exciting times, with people challenging authority, the culture changing and the young men who were involved have gone on to make a real impact on society.”

He recalled seeing the glass-reinforced plastic minesweeper HMS Wilton, known as the Tupperware warship, sail by in 1972 - today it has been decommissioned and converted to a sailing club at Leigh on Sea.

“We have seen so many things out there over the years and it has been great. I cannot see any reason why we cannot go on another 40 years.”

Would you like to live on Sealand? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

IT was like something out of a Hollywood movie.

The night air was streaked with flames as molotov cocktails were hurled from the fort to repel invading commandos keen to have it as their own independent state.

Gunshots were fired, too, in the incident in 1967, one of at least seven attempts by raiders to try and seize Sealand.

The Bates won this war and The Kingdom of Sealand was declared.

Eleven years later 30 men with guns and knives tried to seize it - and in August that year, 1978, an armed raiding party of Germans and Dutch succeeded.

Major Roy Bates, prince of Sealand, was away on business when raiders stormed the tower and captured its only occupant - his son Michael Bates. But at dawn on August 16, Major Bates recaptured his kingdom with a daring swoop, sliding down 100ft ropes from a helicopter flown by a former James Bond movie stuntman before engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the invaders.

After successfully reclaiming the mini-state, the invaders were all sent packing - except one. An international row erupted because

Gernot Putz, a 34-year-old German lawyer, was thrown into Sealand's jail.

A Sealand passport holder, he was charged with treason and held for seven weeks before receiving a royal pardon.

Since then, life on the principality has been peaceful.

It is patrolled by armed guards who keep a close eye on the surrounding sea to ensure no-one comes into the exclusion zone without permission.

The 932 sq yd sovereign state has stood in British waters for the past 20 years.

When it was built as Roughs Tower at a cost of £1 million in 1941 it stood in international waters. Its 70ft concrete towers with seven storeys of living quarters for 150 people were derelict and unwanted by the mid-1960s when the Bates family took it over.

They had been looking for a base for a pirate radio station which turned into a dream of running their own country.

There are around 300 Sealand genuine passport holders - though many thousands of fake ones circulate around the globe, sometimes used by people to claim diplomatic immunity, though the Bates family are strongly against anyone using Sealand and its ideals for their own gain.

TIMELINE: Sealand

1942: Roughs Tower built - a 4,500 ton twin-towered anti-aircraft gun emplacement at a cost of £1 million.

1967: Kingdom of Sealand declared after the Battle of Roughs Tower.

1968: Flag, currency, stamps and passports issued.

1969: Increasingly anxious British Government offers £5,000 for fort so it can be demolished - Major Bates stays put.

1975: Constitution for Sealand signed.

1978: Germans and Dutch raiders seize fort but Bates family and friends recapture it in surprise dawn helicopter attack.

1979: First wedding held on Sealand.

1980s: Plans announced to reclaim land to create North Sea holiday island, to launch Sealand Radio and Sealand TV - but cash problems scupper schemes.

1990: Mini-state at centre of court case at Felixstowe after a shooting incident.

1998: Fears that forged Sealand passports being used for money laundering.

2000: Sealand at centre of global terrorist investigation.

2002: Mini-state becomes base for an offshore internet company.

2006: Fire rips through one of the towers after a generator explodes - crowds watch anxiously from Felixstowe seafront. Tenancy of Sealand is put up for sale for £65 million as a chance for people to run their own island.

2007: Plans now in hand to launch an offshore internet casino.

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