Basically, the British Military set up these AA defense outposts along their east coast during World War II. After the war, they pulled them all down but one, which was left deserted. This base was outside of the current territorial waters of Great Britain, and so according to international law, it could be occupied. And it was, by British major Paddy Roy Bates, who promptly hoisted his own flag and founded his own state called the Principality of Sealand, on Sept 2, 1967. GB didn't like this, so they sent warships to try to take possession ot the base (brute force on top of stupidity). Now, this base may have been deserted, but it wasn't unarmed. He 'availed' himself of his right to self-defense, and fired warning shots at them. He was taken to court over this, but it was decided that the power of the courts didn't extend out that far. So legally, he is the rightful ruler of this miniscule state. As of Sept 1998, he has 160 000 subjects, and interestingly enough, as nearly all of his subjects are wealthy businessmen, his country has the highest per-capita wealth in the world.

Official Websites:
http://www.principality-sealand.net
http://www.sealandgov.com
http://www.havenco.com
Allegedly, the world's smallest sovereign nation. It is built on an old WWII anti-aircraft platform seven miles off the British coast, in about 25 feet of water. In the early 1960s, a retired British Army Major by the name of Roy Bates and his family set up a pirate radio station on the platform and declared it an independent country, and printed joke passports for friends.

In 1966, during a face off with British police vessels, shots were fired and Bates and his son were hauled into court. The judge decided that Sealand was in fact not subject to British jusrisdiction, because at that time the territorial waters of Britain only extended three miles.

In 1968, some German business associates of Mr Roy invaded Sealand and attempted to capture it, but Mr Bates took it back with some of his old army buddies.

In the 1990s, several Russian, Italian, and Spanish gangsters were found to be using fake Sealand passports and documents to engage in money laundering and fraud in Eastern Europe.

And, most recently, Sealand has become the home of the world's first data haven, Havenco. Neal Stephenson is eerily accurate in his prophesizing in Cryptonomicon it seems. However, there are problems, including the still unresolved and ambiguous question of Sealand's sovereignty. I think that overall Sealand is a poor choice -- see ideal data haven location.

A principality situated roughly 6 n mile from the coast of the UK. Originally formed in 1942 after the start of WWII as a naval military outpost located in the North Sea called Roughs Tower (or "The Roughs").

The platform is roughly the size and shape of a full-sized basketball court, raised upon two 8 m x ~16 m (26' x 52') concrete mounts, which sit upon two water-filled pontoons, dropped upon the sand of the UK continental shelf. It included space for 100 officers, galleys, radio equipment, and an operable gun tower.

After WWII, Roughs Tower and numerous other offshore forts like it were abandoned by the military. In the 1960s, many of these abandoned forts were occupied by various music personalities and were used to run (basically) pirate radio stations. In 1965, Roy Bates (aka Prince Roy of Sealand) occupied Knock John Tower and operated a station from it until he was arrested, fined, and the practice made illegal. Afterwards, in 1967, the equipment was moved to Roughs Tower, which Bates then moved to with his wife, claimed as an independent state called Sealand, and named himself prince and reigning monarch.

It happened that, under UK laws and international agreements in place at the time, although most of the offshore military platforms were within UK territorial waters, Roughs Tower / Sealand was determined not to be. As a result, Sealand enjoys tacit "grandfathered" recognition of its independence from UK rule even though subsequent laws/agreements have extended the nautical control rights of nations.

Sealand's government reports that it has defended itself from raiders and UK warships as well as successfully overthrown one foreign occupation and held extradition talks with a German diplomat.

A number of criminal organizations are alleged to have falsely represented themselves as representatives of the government of Sealand, including the owners of the site http://www.principality-sealand.com, undertaking unsanctioned activities ranging from selling false passports to attempting to buy arms from Russia.

The United States as well as nearly all other nations have not made any recognition of Sealand as an independent state. If recognized, Sealand would be the smallest independent state in the world, dwarfed by even the Vatican.

In 1999 the HavenCo company purchased all "land" on Sealand from the princely family for the construction of a internationally unrestricted and secure data haven.

Sources:
http://www.sealandgov.com/ - official page of the govt. of Sealand
http://www.havenco.com/ - page of the HavenCo company
http://freespace.virgin.net/line.design/forts/radioforts.htm - "Offshore Echoes", chronicling the 1960s pirate radio activities from UK offshore forts

Sealand is also the location for a data haven (www.havenco.com). Apparently it is set up so that only the employees of HavenCo and the ruling family of Sealand can land on the island where HavenCo are doing their hosting. This is almost too spooky when you consider Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. This book talks about the setting up of a data haven in a mythical Sultanate in South East Asia. This is similar in that both places are ruled by a family that governs absolutely and can hence allow absolute freedom of information to smooth the way for the ultimate data haven.

More spookily though, Cryptonomicon also talks about a mythical WWII naval facility (in this case ruled by an ancient celtic(ish) family) called Qwghlm, on a windswept island near the British Isles.

Weird coincidence or what? I also read somewhere that one of the founders of HavenCo was named Avi but it was just a coincidence. Likely story.

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