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Sealand, sovereign state off Suffolk coastline, to mark its 50th anniversary with Essex dinner

02 September, 2017 - 07:00
Sealand, founded half a century ago by pirate radio broadcaster Roy Bates on an abandoned fort seven miles off the Suffolk coast. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRE

Sealand, founded half a century ago by pirate radio broadcaster Roy Bates on an abandoned fort seven miles off the Suffolk coast. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRE

A celebratory dinner is being held to mark 50 years since the founding of Sealand, a country off the Suffolk coastline – with hints of a Hollywood movie on the nation in the offing.

Archive photo dated 30 November, 1966, of owner of the Radio Essex pirate station Roy Bates with his wife Joan in Rochford, Essex, where Mr Bates appeared at the magistrates' court to answer a GPO summons for transmitting illegally. Picture: PA WIREArchive photo dated 30 November, 1966, of owner of the Radio Essex pirate station Roy Bates with his wife Joan in Rochford, Essex, where Mr Bates appeared at the magistrates' court to answer a GPO summons for transmitting illegally. Picture: PA WIRE

Half a century ago, pirate radio broadcaster Roy Bates clambered aboard an abandoned fort seven miles off the Suffolk coast and declared it a sovereign state.

The tiny fiefdom of Sealand has since fought incursions by other illicit broadcasters, fired warning shots at the Royal Navy, and suppressed an attempted coup by a group of German businessmen.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the symbol of “enduring freedom”, supporters from around the world will meet for dinner in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, today.

The guest list of admirers includes Hollywood film producers, international lawyers and internet tycoons from places like Argentina, the US and China, according to “Prince” Michael Bates, 65, the current ruler of Sealand.

Sealand stamps. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRESealand stamps. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRE

The Second World War-era steel and concrete platform, which has more than 100,000 Facebook likes, has its own flag, currency, stamps, passports and even a football team.

Mr Bates said the micro-nation represents a universal “desire for freedom away from authority”.

The self-styled royal, who has three grown children and a partner called Meishi, claimed it receives scores of citizenship applications weekly from people “looking for something a bit different”.

Mr Bates, who lives in Leigh-on-Sea, said: “We have two people out there permanently – the most we’ve had is around 50 at one point.

Sealand currency. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRESealand currency. Picture: MICHAEL BATES/PA WIRE

“It’s a very, very interesting and different kind of life. Believe me, I’ve had a lot of adventure out of it.”

A Hollywood film about the history of Sealand may not be too far away, Mr Bates hinted.

To survive financially, the rusting outpost sells quasi-aristocratic titles with the chance to become a duke or duchess for £500.

The nation’s history began on September 2, 1967, when former Army serviceman Roy Bates clambered aboard the disused Roughs Tower, declared himself ruler and, on her birthday, made his wife Joan princess.

The North Sea outpost was outside British waters’ then three-mile jurisdiction, placing it beyond the grasp of Whitehall. British forces then pulled down other forts to stop a repeat of the grab.

In 1968, a 14-year-old Michael Bates sent “warning shots” across the bow of a vessel he felt was sailing too close to the platform.

When he and his father were hauled before the courts over the “swashbuckling incident”, a judge concluded the law had no jurisdiction over the territory.

Sealand claims this episode as its first instance of de facto recognition.

The second came after a German diplomat was sent to negotiate the release of a hostage following a botched coup by German businessmen in 1978.

Guests at the 50th anniversary dinner will toast the memory of founder Roy Bates, who died in 2012, and his wife Joan, who died last year.

A commemorative silver crown coin is being produced for the occasion.

Michael Bates, who wrote a history of Sealand called Holding The Fort, added: “We’re perhaps the most undemanding state in the world. We don’t force anybody to worship any god or religion or anything.

“Maybe that’s why we’ve lasted so long. Hopefully I’ll be around for the next 50!”

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