Coming soon: pirate nation

I’ve always been fascinated by micronations, those slices of the planet that some eccentric has tried to carve off and control for themselves. We have several in Australia, from the venerable Hutt River Province to the fairly humorous Empire of Atlantium, which seems to exist exclusively within a Potts Point apartment. But one of the few that have had any success in actually becoming a nation-state is Sealand, which is on sale for around a billion dollars. And if that wasn’t weird enough, a file-sharing website seems to be serious about trying to buy it to create an intellectual property law-free Nerdvana.

Sealand is a British Navy fort that was set up in the English Channel during World War II. It was abandoned after the war, and was seized by squatters until Major Roy Bates captured it and began pirate radio transmissions from it. The fort has now passed onto his son, “Prince” Michael who has made the decision to sell it.
A supposedly completely ‘free’ internet hosting service was set up there a few years ago, and it seems to still be operating today. Which is probably why the fort’s been valued so highly, and why The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s most popular BitTorrent software piracy sites, wants to buy it. The site provided links to lots of pirated material, so has been prosecuted in a number of countries. In an attempt to avoid the inconvenience of copyright law, its owners they’ve set up scheme to buy Sealand. Unfortunately, they’ve only managed to raise $13,000 so far – who’d have thought software pirates would be a bit cheap?
What I’ve always found hilarious about micronations is the way they purport to be real countries, with stamps, passports, ministries and even currency. Check out this statement from Sealand’s website:
Seven years later on 25 September 1975, Roy of Sealand proclaimed the Constitution of the Principality. Over time, other national treasures were developed, such as the flag of the Principality of Sealand, its national anthem, stamps, as well as gold and silver coins launched as Sealand Dollars. Finally, passports of the Principality of Sealand were issued to those who had helped Sealand in some way, though they were never for sale.
And their spin on letting a private (read porn and gambling) internet server set up there?
The presence of an active and rapidly growing high-tech internet industry in Sealand has changed the character of the Principality; once more, Sealand rings with the sound of voices, boasts regular support ferry services, and is host to a growing and dynamic population.
At times, though, it’s gotten bizarrely real:
In August of 1978, a number of Dutch men came to Sealand in the employ of a German businessman. They were there to discuss business dealings with Sealand. While Roy was away in Britain, these men kidnapped Prince Roy’s son Michael, and took Sealand by force. Soon after, Roy recaptured the island with a group of his own men and held the attackers as prisoners of war.
During the time that he held the prisoners, the Governments of the Netherlands and Germany petitioned for their release. First they asked England to intervene in the matter, but the British government cited their earlier court decision as evidence that they made no claim to the territory of Sealand. Then, in an act of de facto recognition of Sealand’s sovereignty, Germany sent a diplomat directly to Sealand to negotiate for the release of their citizen.
Roy first released the Dutch citizens, as the war was over, and the Geneva Convention requires the release of all prisoners. The German was held longer, as he had accepted a Sealand Passport, and therefore was guilty of treason. Prince Roy, who was grateful that the incident had not resulted in a loss of life, and did not want to bloody the reputation of Sealand, eventually released him as well.

Part of Sealand’s claims of independence are based on a court case in the 1970s where Roy was charged with firearm offences. Because Sealand is outside the then-three mile territorial limit, it was decided that the acts were outside the UK’s jurisdiction. The UK has subsequently extended its territory to 12 nautical miles, which includes Sealand, and US courts have thrown out its claims to independence.
Ironically, the very act of selling the property to a file-sharing site might be enough to end the seizure of Sealand. The UK Government hasn’t done much about it because it, unsurprisingly no longer wants a rusting sea fort in the middle of nowhere. But if it becomes controversial as a base for illegal activities, and if there’s pressure by the powerful recording and film industries, they’ll probably just take it back. Thereby wiping out the value of whatever the new owners will have paid for it. What a brilliant irony it would be for a bunch of software pirates to be done out of their money.
Sealand may well be the world’s biggest and best-organised cubbyhouse. If anyone’s interested in buying it, here’s the link for interested purchasers. You’ll do your money, of course – but hey, at least it was tax free…
Dominic Knight