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Seasteading

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Wouldn't you spend more on this than you would pay in taxes anyway? Even just to get food might be a bit expensive (unless all you eat is sashimi).
It doesn't stop
at the water's edge

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…I'm gonna go build my own theme park! With blackjack, and hookers!
—Bender, Futurama[1]

Seasteading is the libertarian fantasy of attempting to establish a society on (or under) the sea. Given that a large swath of the oceans are international waters, outside the jurisdiction of any one country, some people see seasteading as the most viable possibility for creating new, autonomous states with their own pet political systems in place.

Given that international maritime law doesn't, as such, recognize ginormous boats or artificial islands as stateless enclaves or independent nations, diplomatic recognition, if the owners actually need it, is somewhat problematic.

Seasteading is inspired by real life examples of boat-based provision of services not legal in certain countries. Examples include casino boats (ships that, upon reaching international waters, open up their gambling facilities to passengers) and the organization Women on Waves,Wikipedia's W.svg which provides abortion services in countries (such as Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain) where abortion is illegal or in which the rules are stricter than they would prefer. Another example is pirate radio stations, which got their name from the fact that many of them operated from boats in international waters.

Several seasteading projects have been started; only two have ever been completed (three if you count Sealand and its 'Prince'), and the vast majority have never even really begun. It is quite possible that herding libertarians is difficult.

Some cryonicists are seasteaders, which implies truly remarkably compartmentalised thinking about the value of large, stable social structures.

As they age, some libertarians are realising that replacing government may be more work than they can personally achieve as actualised individuals.[2] Reason, of course, tells them not to stop thinking about tomorrow.[3]

"Successful" examples[edit]

There have been four seasteading projects that could be considered "successful" in any sense of the word.

Republic of Minerva[edit]

The longest-lived and most successful was the "Republic of Minerva," an artificial island in the South Pacific constructed by real estate millionaire Michael J. Oliver and his Phoenix Foundation using dredged sand to expand the tiny Minerva Reef. The intention was to establish an agrarian anarcho-capitalist utopia; presumably the libertarian supermen would evolve past the need to drink, as there was no source of fresh water on the island (nor any land at high tide, at least initially). Minerva formally declared independence in 1972 and attempted to establish diplomatic relations with the surrounding nations, though it was mostly ignored. The small settlement lasted for approximately five months, until the government of Tonga sent a military expedition (along with a convict work detail, a brass band, and HRM King Taufa’ahau Tupou himself) to claim the island by force (or rather, re-claim it; the original reef had been considered a culturally important Tongan fishing region). In 1982 a second group of libertarians tried to reclaim the atoll but were again forced off by the Tongan military. Since then, the project collapsed, and the island has since been mostly reclaimed by the sea.

Unabashed, Oliver tried to funnel funds into various separatist groups and revolutionaries in the Bahamas and Vanuatu, but was met with extremely little success. Today, the Phoenix Foundation still chugs on, eyeing tiny islands like the Isle of Man and the Azores and grumbling to themselves.

Rose Island[edit]

Rose Island, officially the "Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj" (Republic of the Island of Roses) was a 400-square-meter artificial platform in the Mediterranean founded by an Italian casino entrepreneur in 1968. It styled itself as a libertarian capitalist state with Esperanto as its official language, but was in fact little more than a tourist resort complex, and had virtually no space for permanent residents. The Italian government, seeing the project as nothing more than a ploy to avoid having to pay taxes on revenue from the resort, seized the platform with police a few weeks after it opened and destroyed it with explosives[4].

Operation Atlantis[edit]

Operation Atlantis was an American attempt by Libertarian soap-magnate Werner K. Steifel to create an anarcho-capitalist utopia (noticing a trend here?) in the Bahamas by building a large ferro-cement ship, sailing it to its destination, anchoring it there and living on it. The boat was built, launched from New York in 1971, and (after capsizing once on the Hudson river and catching fire) taken to its final position in the Caribbean, where it was secured in place. Preparations were made for the residents to immigrate to their new floating city-state, but unfortunately for them it sank almost immediately.[5][note 1] After two more attempts and eventually pouring a lot of money into an island off the coast of Belize that he couldn't get autonomy for, the project collapsed.

Sealand[edit]

Their Hoyal Highnesses, Prince Roy and Princess Joan, standing amid the fertile plains and majestic highlands of Sealand

The Principality of Sealand is a cute little boy in a sailor outfit with delusions of grandeur an abandoned British anti-aircraft platform of World War II vintage located in international waters east of the British Isles. In 1967 it was claimed and occupied by Paddy Roy Bates, the self-proclaimed "Prince Roy of Sealand" (29 August 1921 – 9 October 2012), former offshore pirate radio station operator, who also proclaimed his wife Joan Bates (2 September 1929 - 10 March 2016) "Princess Joan". The population of this nation has never been more than one can count on both hands; nonetheless, the Principality of Sealand was invaded and conquered in 1978 by a group of German and Dutch nationals (including the kidnapping of Prince Roy's son Michael) whose coup was promptly reversed by Prince Roy who hired a helicopter to help him retake the artificial island. To this day it's as close as anyone has ever come to a functioning seastead— and that isn't really saying much.

An internet service provider, HavenCo.com, actually attempted to set up its servers on Sealand circa 2000 but the deal fell through when HavenCo's founder had a falling out with Prince Paddy Roy. In 2013, a HavenCo website has appeared, stating, "Havenco is launching new services in early 2013 to facilitate private communications and storage" and boasting "The next generation of online privacy coming soon!"

Prince Roy had listed the Principality of Sealand for sale, but since one cannot technically "sell" a monarchy, it was in actuality being offered for transfer of title or something along those lines.

Such is Sealand's reputation that the nation actually has athletes who represent the country, ships who have attempted to negotiate with Prince Paddy Roy to buy the right to flag their ships under the Sealand flag, the German hip hop group Fettes Brot shot the video for their 2013 track Echo at Sealand, and a phony-baloney outfit based in Germany selling counterfeit Sealand coins, stamps, and passports (not recognized by the de facto Sealand government of Prince Roy, who considers the outfit a criminal gang descended from the earlier coup attempt). It is an inspiration to micronation buffs who see it as an example of a successful micronation. However, Sealand has never been recognized by any other country as a sovereign nation (though a British court decision held that the U.K. had no sovereignty over it).

Sealand is depicted in the anime Hetalia: Axis Powers as a child in a sailor suit,[6] and in the webcomic Scandinavia and the World as a little boy wearing a crown and a t-shirt modeled after its national flag.[7]

Prince Roy died 9 October, 2012, leaving his son and heir, Michael Bates (who had been serving as Prince Regent Michael), as Sealand's Head of State, and the author of the Principality's historical book, Holding the Fort. The Prince is dead, long live the Prince!

Similar projects[edit]

Vietnam's claim on Collins Reef in the Spratlys

Libertarians are hardly the only people to try and colonize the ocean. China, for instance, has used a version of seasteading in order to enforce its claims on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that's claimed in whole or in part by six nations (the PRC, the ROC, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei). They've been hard at work using land reclamation to build artificial islands with airstrips, piers, harbors, and helipads, which they say are for military "and civilian" use.[8]

In the 1970s, relatively apolitical seasteading project was proposed for the North Sea, "Sea City", based on the idea that "Man is fast running out of living space."[9]

Eccentric right-wing entrepreneur Peter Thiel founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008 with the intent of building a floating city. In 2017 the Institute, by then Thiel-less, signed a deal with the government of French Polynesia, an autonomous territory of France in the south Pacific, but soon after French Polynesia reneged on the deal.[10][11]

In an effort to throw in as many libertarian buzzwords as possible into one news story, in 2019 bitcoin entrepreneur Chad Elwartowski attempted to set up a floating home in what he thought were international waters 26 km (14 nautical miles) off the west coast of Phuket, Thailand. He and his partner Supranee Thepdet planned to construct up to 20 homes, Chad calling himself "probably the freest person in the world". Unfortunately the Thai navy didn't agree with his interpretation of the law and boarded the floating home, pointing out it was in Thailand's exclusive economic zone and therefore a violation of Thai sovereignty, an offence potentially carrying the death penalty.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

The BioShock games[edit]

The video game BioShock[13] features what is probably the best-known example of a seastead in popular culture both in form of the underwater city of Rapture and the flying city of Columbia. Spoiler: neither really panned out as intended.

Sea also[edit]

Don't see also[edit]

  • Waterworld

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Really, what else were they expecting? Naming your floating city project after a fictional city famous primarily for sinking is just asking for trouble. The removal of almost all of the ship's original gear for additional ballast and addition of an incredibly heavy concrete deckhouse didn't help.

References[edit]