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The Republic of Rose Island
The Republic of Minerva was created by importing sand into shallow waters

In micronationalism, seasteading is the creation of permanent dwellings at sea in international waters—sometimes called seasteads—whereby the structures can be declared sovereign. International waters are parts of the ocean which do not belong under the jurisdiction of any sovereign state (macronation). Although the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea disallows artificial islands and structures from constituting "islands"—and does not being entitled to statehood—there have still been several seasteading attempts which have occurred since as early as 1964.

The Micronational Seasteading Boom between 1964 and 1973 saw the unsuccessful creation of several seasteads, including Leicester Hemingway's Republic of New Atlantis (1964), Operation Atlantis, the Republic of Rose Island (1968), and the Republic of Minerva (1972). The Principality of Sealand, founded in 1967, remains extant, having laid claim to an offshore platform previously used during World War II. Since the micronations boom, seasteading has been seldom attempted in a micronational context, although there have been unsuccessful pledges such as the Principality of New Utopia in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, the Seasteading Institute, founded by macronationalists in 2008, supports micronational seasteading attempts.

Legal rationale

International waters—formally the high seas—are parts of the ocean which do not belong under the jurisdiction of any sovereign state—macronations. As defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal sovereign states have jurisdiction over waters—referred to as territorial sea—extending at most 12 nautical miles (22 km; 14 mi) from the baseline of their coast. In practice, the territorial sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships are allowed innocent passage through it. Seasteading micronations aim to create a permanent dwelling in international waters outside of the jurisdiction of any state, with the goal of declaring sovereignty. However, article 60 § 8 of the Law on the Sea states "Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf."[1] Sea law and sovereignty expert John Gibson of Cardiff University stated that the Principality of Sealand could not be regarded as sovereign due to being artificial.[2]

History and examples

Micronational Seasteading Boom (1964–1973)

Operation Atlantis, 1970

The Micronational Seasteading Boom began with writer Leicester Hemingway's Republic of New Atlantis founded in 1964. He claimed a bamboo raft which he had constructed out of steel, iron piping and rock. Hemingway had it towed 9.7 kilometres (6.0 mi) off the coast of Jamaica, arguing that it technically constituted an island which made him able to declare it fully sovereign based on the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This project of Hemingway's became a media sensation, which inspired several others to create their own seasteading micronations. In 1965, the United States Attorney's office in southern Florida filed suit against two seasteading micronations for allegedly promoting illegal gambling—Atlantis, Isle of Gold and the Grand Capri Republic. In 1966, the original raft of New Atlantis was destroyed by tropical storms. In 1967, pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates—possibly unaware of New Atlantis—squatted on HM Fort Roughs, an offshore platform in the North Sea some 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) off the coast of the United Kingdom. He had wished to broadcast a pirate radio station from the platform, however instead declared it an independent nation known as the Principality of Sealand.

Rose Island in 1969 after being destroyed by the Italian Navy

In 1968, dermatologist Werner Stiefel began his own Operation Atlantis, aiming to establish a new nation in international waters based on the principles of libertarianism. Hoping to attract libertarians in the United States to the seasteading micronation, Stiefel wrote and self-published The Story of Operation Atlantis under the pseudonym Werner K. Stevens. That same year, the Republic of Rose Island was constructed as a tourist attraction in the Adriatic Sea, but Italian architect Giorgio Rosa soon declared it as sovereign. Also in 1968, Michael Bates, Roy's son, fired shots at a British navy vessel in the vicinity of Sealand. Some of the vessel's occupants stated they were intending to evict the Bates family from the fortress, while others claimed that they were simply attempting to repair a buoy. A few weeks later, a court in Chelmsford ruled that because the incident occurred outside of British territorial waters, the court possessed no jurisdiction over the matter. Bates cited this case as evidence of de facto sovereignty. Another conflict between a seasteading micronation and a macronation occurred in 1969, when the Italian Navy used explosives to destroy the facility of Rose Island. Italy claimed it was a ploy to raise money from tourists while avoiding national taxation. This act was later portrayed on postage stamps issued by Rosa's self-declared government-in-exile.

In 1971, Operation Atlantis launched a ferrocement boat on the Hudson River and piloted it near the Bahamas. Upon reaching its destination, however, the boat sank in a hurricane. Nevertheless, the citizens of Operation Atlantis bought a new boat and briefly moved the operation to Tortuga Island, Haiti in 1972, before being forced off by the Haitian government. The Haitian government disapproved of their plans, and Operation Atlantis was subsequently driven off Tortuga and forced to advance its construction of Operation Atlantis at an unnamed island they dubbed Silver Shoals. However, a Haitian gunboat stumbled upon Atlantis' construction site and mistook them for robbers, forcing them to leave the island or be shot. After this, all but Stiefel left the project. After two more failed attempts, including purchasing an oil rig, Stiefel abandoned Operation Atlantis in 1973. One of the last seasteading micronations during this era, the Republic of Minerva, was another libertarian project that successfully constructed a small, artificial island on the Minerva Reefs in 1972 by importing sand. However, it was invaded by troops from Tonga that same year, who annexed it before immediately destroying the island.

Subsequent history

The International Micropatrological Society (IMS), the first institute dedicated to the study of micronationalism (micropatriology—a word which it coined), was founded in 1973. Micropatriologist Zabëlle Skye claims that its foundation may possibly have been influenced by the Seasteading Boom. Many of these seasteading micronations are also profiled in Erwin S. Strauss' How to Start Your Own Country, first published in 1979 with subsequent editions in 1984 and 1999.[3] In 1987, the United Kingdom expanded its territorial waters from three to 12 nautical miles (22 km; 14 mi) per the Territorial Sea Act, which now includes Sealand. The Bates family and other micronationalists continue to assert Sealand's sovereignty on the basis that it was declared prior to this act.

The rise of micronationalism on the Internet beginning in 1995 resulted in micronations becoming increasingly online-based. Upon the engagement of Robert Ben Madison's the Micronations Page, seasteading entered intermicronational discussion for the first time ever, and several micronations with plans of seasteading arose. However, no formal attempts to create a seastead are known to have ever occurred, though at least one came close—the Principality of New Utopia, but failed after the United States Securities and Exchange Commission termed New Utopia a "fraudulent nationwide Internet scheme."[4] In addition, discussions regarding seasteading died down by 2003, as did nearly all seasteading efforts.

A second revival came with the Seasteading Institute, which was founded by macronationalists in 2008 in order to facilitate the establishment of future seasteads. Nevertheless, despite being macronational, it quickly became associated with micronationalism, and was featured in Jody Shapiro's 2010 documentary film about micronations How to Start Your Own Country.[5] In 2019, a couple living in a seastead in the Andaman Sea, outside the territorial waters of Thailand, went into hiding after being accused by the Royal Thai Navy of violating Thailand's sovereignty. They fled the platform ahead of a raid by Thai authorities. If caught and found guilty, they would be eligible for life in prison or the death penalty.


The Principality of Sealand claims a decommissioned sea fort previously used during World War II

Seasteading has spurred the development of numerous designs featuring interlocking modules made of reinforced concrete. This material, commonly used in marine structures such as floating docks, provides durability and stability in the ocean environment. One seastead design that utilises reinforced concrete is the spar buoy, which features platforms resting on spars shaped like floating dumbbells, with the living area elevated above sea level. This design reduces the impact of wave action on the structure. Creating artificial islands by importing material such as sand is also a possibility, albeit more expensive. Some seasteading micronations have repurposed abandoned man-made structures like disused oil platforms to establish their settlements. For example, Sealand is located on a decommissioned sea fort. Although cruise ships are not designed specifically for seasteading, they offer a proven technology for living at sea for extended periods of time. However, their focus on travel and short-term stay make them less optimised for permanent residence in a single location.


See also