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Starting Your Own Country

“Can I start my own country” is frequently asked by people interested in private islands. Despite all the hopeful dictators and Kool-Aid drinkers out there, it’s pretty difficult to start your own country.

pirate-island

Islands are a natural choice for starting a country. Islands create a sense of autonomy and independence because their border is already clearly defined. However, there are no undiscovered or unclaimed islands on the planet. Every island on the planet falls under the jurisdiction of one country or another. And countries are naturally quite protective of their territories. You cannot buy an island from a country and claim independence anymore than you can declare sovereignty from your armchair inside a suburban bungalow.

However, you may be able to find a country that is so poor or so corrupt that it would surrender sovereignty over an island in exchange for cash. If you can find a spot that exists outside the territorial waters of any country, you could build your own island. Alternatively, you could create a floating city on a ship. A ‘citizen’ on a floating city in international waters could be a citizen of the world.

Cautionary Tales of Those Who Tried

passportPeople have tried to get around the endless problems of sovereignty by building their own islands, through sand reclamation or floating platforms, often ships. Regardless of where you build, or float, you will probably land in the hot territorial waters of one country or another. Building an island from scratch, like the failed World island project in Dubai, requires relatively shallow waters. If you’re far enough offshore to be outside territorial waters, you will need an awful lot of sand (and money) to reach the bottom. If you should decide to take over a small island and create your own banana republic, be prepared to defend yourself against a large neighbouring country who will not take your invasion lightly.

Principality of Sealand

sealand

The Principality of Sealand, home to the Bates family since 1967, is a dilapidated and algae covered eyesore, 10 miles off the coast of Suffolk, England. Sealand’s claims to sovereignty aren’t recognized by any country, but Sealand is still managed (and defended with gunfire if necessary) by the Bates family as though it were recognized. In 1975, Paddy Roy Bates introduced a constitution, flag, national anthem, currency and passports to Sealand. In 2000, HavenCo was said to have established a secure offshore data haven on Sealand, intended to be the Cayman Islands of hosting. HavenCo’s Acceptable Use Policy prohibited child pornography, spamming, and malicious hacking, but all other content was acceptable. After HavenCo collapsed, Sealand’s government is building a new online casino expected to be open by 2012. Thirty employees would work in Sealand. We’ll see.

Minerva Reefs

Claiming sovereignty over an island is nearly impossible, but that hasn’t stopped a few people from trying in recent history. Libertarian millionaire Michael Oliver attempted to create a sovereign micronation called Minerva by reclaiming underwater reefs in the Pacific in the 1970s. The site was located about 400 miles south of Fiji and 250 miles west of Tonga. Oliver shipped in some sand from Australia and planted his flag. After Oliver had staked his claim by sending out a declaration of independence to neighbouring countries, Tonga responded to Oliver by dispatching an angry and armed envoy of Tongans to defend their turf. Minerva’s flag was unceremoniously removed and Tonga laid real claim to the reef.