The Seasteading Institute extends its condolences to the family of Major Paddy Roy Bates, Founder and Prince of the Principality of Sealand. Sealand, the former military turret declared sovereign and occupied for many years by Bates and his family, has served as encouragement for many seasteading supporters; long before the term ‘seasteading’ was used to describe the establishment of autonomous nations in international waters, Bates was a pioneer for the cause. He was the first, and perhaps the only person to successfully declare an artificial offshore platform as sovereign and actually achieve any lasting recognition or autonomy. The history of Bates’ audacious assertion of individual freedom is documented in the article, “The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas,” recently revised and published in the USF Journal of Maritime Law, and authored by our legal board member O.Shane Balloun.
A Washington Post obituary tells a shorter story of how the World War II veteran was first inspired by the offshore “pirate radio” stations of the 1960s, but soon after redirected his ambition toward the larger goal of achieving independence from the United Kingdom (located just seven miles from the abandoned outpost). Bates’ 1967 proclamation gained legitimacy when he successfully repelled a British envoy and subsequently won a court case, wherein a British judge ruled that the newly founded Principality stood outside the Crown’s jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, the means of acquiring relatively near-shore platforms is a less viable route to alternative governance today than it was in the 1960s — territorial waters have been moved from the previous three-mile limit to 12 nautical miles, and UNCLOS provisions instated in 1982 place artificial islands in the 200-nautical-mile-wide EEZ under the jurisdiction of coastal states. However, since Sealand keeps all of its activities aboveboard, the United Kingdom has not made any attempt to interfere with its sovereignty in spite of its technical ability to do so under UNCLOS. The platform still hosts internet servers as it did during the days of HavenCo, in the early 2000s, demonstrating that viable business models exist and can sustain seastead populations.
The facts of Sealand’s continuing existence and operation provide seasteaders with experience, credibility, and most importantly, inspiration. Bates may no longer be with us, but as long as we have people among us with his willingness to try new things, the frontier will survive.