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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Offshore and offline?
Sealand stamps
Stamps have even been issued by Sealand
By BBC News Online internet reporter
Mark Ward

Plans for an offshore data haven free of government interference could be scuppered because the site lies within British waters.

American entrepreneurs are planning to use a former World War II anti-aircraft platform as an electronic refuge for companies who resent government scrutiny.

HavenCo says laws soon to be adopted in the UK and US will give governments power to snoop on web-based businesses.

By contrast, Sealand has no laws governing data traffic, and HavenCo is proposing to site its computers on the territory of this self-styled "sovereign principality" lying eight miles off the Suffolk coast.

In 1967, retired Army major Paddy Roy Bates took over the platform, called it Sealand and declared himself monarch.

Since then, Mr Bates has been trying to have Sealand recognised as an independent nation.

Sea state

But his plans were dealt a blow in 1987 when the UK extended its territorial waters from 3 to 12 miles.

Now Sealand sits inside waters that Britain claims as its territory.

'Freedom of the seas'
The Sealand coat of arms
A spokesman for the Home Office said it had no reason to recognise Sealand as a nation. "We've no reason to believe that anyone else recognises it either," he added.

But John Gibson, an expert on sea law and sovereignty at Cardiff University, said the legitimacy of Sealand's claim depends on whether it was recognised as a nation before 1987.

He said because Sealand was man-made there was little chance that it would be recognised as a nation. "I don't think structures of that kind count as territory," he said.

But Mr Bates claims that he has already established the legal existence of Sealand.

Legal landmark

In 1967, the Royal Navy tried to remove Mr Bates and he tried to scare them off by firing warning shots.

The legal action the government brought following this incident was dropped because the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction beyond its territorial waters.

The new Atlantis?
Now HavenCo, which is registered in Anguilla, is planning to site its servers in the 75 feet tall concrete pillars that form Sealand.

It will be linked with the outside world using satellite links.

HavenCo says it will ensure that the businesses trading from its computers are not doing anything illegal.

But earlier this year, Spanish police swooped on a criminal gang that had set up a website selling fake Sealand passports.

The Spanish police suspect the passports have been used by gun-running and money laundering rings. One Sealand passport surfaced during the investigation into the murder of Gianni Versace.

Novel nations

Sealand is only one of many attempts to set up a new nation.

Early this century, Leicester Hemingway, the brother of the writer Ernest, set up New Atlantis on a barge off the west coast of Jamaica.

The Atlantis project is attempting to set up a sea-based city that will become a new country called Oceania.

There are even plans by two separate organisations to use immense ships as floating cities.

One is trying to raise funds for a vessel, called the Freedom Ship, that will be nearly a mile long. Many of the cabins on its decks are already sold.

Although it was not a new nation, the Iridium satellite telephone service was given its own dialling code to ensure its phones could be used anywhere in the world.

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05 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Snooping bill 'will harm business'
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
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