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Sealand: The micronation carving its own path

Sealand: The micronation carving its own path
Sealand: The micronation carving its own path 05:36

This week for 60 Minutes, correspondent Jon Wertheim visited Sealand, the smallest area in the world to claim itself as a sovereign nation. Getting there—and staying overnight—was an adventure in itself. 

A micronation in the extreme, Sealand has all the trappings of a country: a constitution, a permanent population (of one), a government, a defined space—even a rousing national anthem. A former British nautical fort during World War II, the principality sits about seven miles off the eastern coast of England.

It is run by the man who has named himself prince: Michael Bates.

But to see what it was all about, Wertheim and the crew first had to get there. 

"It's one of these places where you see where it is on a map, and you'd say, 'That looks reasonable,'" Wertheim said. "But this could have been in the South Pacific. It's really far." 

To arrive on Sealand, the crew rode in a boat and then were hoisted onto the platform one-by-one in a small swing. It took them hours to get all the camera and sound equipment onto the platform. 

Designed as a military fort, the two seven-story towers were intended to prevent German bombing raids on London. Today, they play host to a floating home-turned nation. A bench press becomes the national gym. Two taper candles serve as the chapel. When 60 Minutes was aboard, the galley kitchen hosted the state dinner: a pot of pasta cooked by 60 Minutes cameraman Massimo Mariani. 

While shooting the story, Wertheim and a producer stayed overnight. The sleeping quarters are set down into the towers, and because Wertheim's was at sea level, the North Sea splashed against his bedroom walls, inches from the bed. 

"I'd be lying if I said it was the most comfortable night's sleep," Wertheim said. 

But there is a limit to the humor of Sealand. The fine line of laughter on the platform is the bottom line: The Bates family must spend real money to keep it going. Prince Michael Bates' parents were the ones who established Sealand in 1967, and in the ensuing decades, the monarch estimates that his family has spent millions of dollars trying to keep alive the dream of running a sovereign nation. 

Luckily for the Bates family, Sealand seems ready-made for the internet. Prince Michael and his sons, Prince James and Prince Liam, now sell souvenirs online, including stamps, T-shirts, coffee mugs—even personalized Sealand email addresses. 

Then there are the honorary titles. For a cool $149.99, anyone in the world can be knighted on Sealand. Spend $299.99 and collect the title count or countess. According to Princes James and Liam, selling these titles is offsetting the nation's operating costs, for now. 

Going forward, the Sealand princes see their nation existing in two ways. In addition to the physical manifestation—the rusting fort jutting out of the water—Sealand will stay alive online, due in large part to the very idea of its founding. 

"Ideas are infectious, aren't they?" Prince Liam told Wertheim. "What could be better than carving your own path in life and choosing your own future?"

As for the 60 Minutes crew, before they each got back in the small swing to be hoisted over the North Sea and return to firmer ground, Wertheim was gifted his own title: Duke of Sealand. 

"I'm a duke," Wertheim said. "I've got the business card to prove it, and if you'd like to call me Duke, you're more than welcome."

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger. 

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