I recently read Offshore, which is Ben Fogle’s account of his travels around a number of British islands trying to get to the bottom of his love of islands and to find a small island he could buy for himself. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Fogle’s other books but for the most part it’s an interesting read and there are plenty of entertaining stories and nuggets of information, such as the existence of the Island Games, an international sports competition between inhabitants of small islands from around the world.
My favourite bit was the section on Sealand. If you haven’t heard of it, Sealand is an independent nation which was established on a metal Maunsell fort out in the North Sea which had been abandoned by the British military after World War Two. (If you’ve ever seen the old TV gameshow Fort Boyard, it was one of those.) A man from Essex named Roy Bates realised that as it was in international waters he could legally claim it under international law. In 1967, he did and moved his family onto it, announcing his new kingdom with letters to other countries and the UN. There was nothing the British government could do about it. He even started issuing passports and currency!
As you may imagine, the British government was not terribly happy about this and in 1968 the Royal Navy entered Sealand’s territorial waters. Warning shots were fired from the new kingdom. As Bates was still a British citizen, he had to attend court but the court was forced to conclude that they had no jurisdiction over Sealand, thereby de facto recognising it!
A few years later, when his then-teenage son Prince Michael, was alone on Sealand, a party of German and Dutch men took it over and essentially kidnapped Michael and took him to the Netherlands. Hearing about this, Bates called a friend of his who was a stunt helicopter pilot for the nsell James Bond films and led a daring raid to recapture his kingdom. He succeeded – the Dutch men were released, while the German was held as a traitor on the grounds that he held a Sealand passport (the circumstances under which he came to hold it are not explained in the book or on Sealand’s website).
The Germans asked the British to intervene but they refused on the grounds that they had no jurisdiction. The German authorities were therefore forced to send a diplomat directly to negotiate his release, which was granted after about a month.
What a fantastic story! Bates and his wife have retired to Spain, so now Prince Michael is the Prince Regent.
If you want to know more, here are some links.
Sealand’s website: http://www.sealandgov.org/index.html
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Sealand