Roy Bates, self-styled prince of Sealand, a British sea fort, dies at 91

An instigator of Britain's pirate radio boom, Roy Bates declared himself sovereign of a sea fort

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2012, 4:03am

The self-styled Prince Roy of Sealand, who declared a sovereign principality on an abandoned British sea fort, has died aged 91, Sealand's website announced.

Roy Bates, a former British army major, occupied Fort Roughs in 1966. The 550-square-metre platform lies 13 kilometres off England in the North Sea. Bates declared it independent from Britain on September 2, 1967, triggering debate as to whether or not it truly counted as the world's smallest country.

Bates died on Wednesday at a care home on the mainland after suffering from Alzheimer's.

After serving in the second world war, he became involved in the 1960s pirate radio boom, broadcasting offshore from ships and disused sea forts to break the BBC's monopoly and play pop music, to the delight of millions of teenagers.

Sealand has issued its own stamps, passports and money and fielded sports teams for "international" matches. Its official language is English and the Sealand dollar has a fixed exchange rate of one US dollar.

Sealand has its own red, white and black flag, and a national motto of "E Mare Libertas", or "From the Sea, Freedom".

It is not recognised by any established sovereign state.

In 1968, warning shots were fired at workmen sailing nearby in Sealand's "territorial waters" and Bates was summoned to an English court on firearms charges. However, the court ruled that the platform was outside British jurisdiction, being beyond the then three-mile limit of its territorial waters.

In 1978, while Bates was away, German and Dutch businessmen stormed the platform and deported his son Michael to the Netherlands. However, Bates, was able to retake Sealand and capture the attack's leader.

"We were both armed and that's certainly one of the most memorable days I spent with him," "prince regent" Michael Bates said, according to the BBC.

With Britain citing the 1968 court ruling, West Germany sent a diplomat from London to negotiate the man's release. Bates eventually relented, and claimed that the visit amounted to de facto recognition from Bonn.

After establishing the principality, "many adventures were to follow including run-ins with the British government and terrorist attacks", said the obituary on the Sealand website.

"Prince Roy" is survived by his wife, "princess" Joan, son Michael and daughter Penny.