"Smallest Country" for Sale -- Sea Views Included, Land Extra

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
January 18, 2007

It's not every day you see a real estate listing advertising "the possibility to have your own country. … something exclusive to a very few lucky people."

But that's one current offer from the InmoNaranja agency in Motril, Spain.

The "country" in question, Sealand, is said to come with its own citizens, government, money, stamps, flag, national anthem, and other trappings of nationhood—all for about a billion U.S. dollars.

And you get to be royalty.

It may sound like a bargain, but it doesn't necessarily look like one.

The "Principality of Sealand" is a rusting 5,920-square-foot (500-square-meter) platform perched on two concrete pillars in the North Sea off eastern England. It's one of many so-called micro-nations—curious places where, if they actually exist, the chief export seems to be hyperbole.

Sealand, a former British naval fort built during World War II, is offered for sale on behalf of "Prince Michael," aka Michael Bates.

Bates is the son of Paddy Roy Bates, a retired army major turned fisher turned pirate radio station operator.

The elder Bates appropriated the abandoned sea fort, called Roughs Tower, from another pirate-radio operator in the mid-1960s. Having been convicted of breaking U.K. broadcasting law from another sea platform in 1966, Paddy Roy Bates aimed to restart BBMS (his Britain's Better Music Station) from the farther-out tower—though he never did.

Instead, Prince Roy of Sealand, as he called himself, declared Roughs Tower an independent country in 1967—making this year the 40th anniversary of "probably the smallest country in the world," according to Inmonaranja.

Bates's sovereignty claim received a boost in 1975 after he repelled a British Navy assault by firing warning shots from his principality.

U.K. courts ruled that the platform—located six miles (ten kilometers) off the eastern English county of Suffolk (United Kingdom map)—was outside British jurisdiction. At the time, the border of U.K. territorial waters was set at three miles (five kilometers) from the coast.

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