LONDON (AP) — Paddy Roy Bates, who occupied an abandoned fort in the North Sea and declared it the sovereign Principality of Sealand — with himself as its prince — has died at age 91, his son said Wednesday.
Michael Bates said his father died Tuesday at a care home in Leigh-on-Sea in eastern England. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's.
In the 1960s, inspired by the "pirate radio" movement of unlicensed stations broadcasting pop music from outside Britain's boundaries, Bates set up Radio Essex on an offshore fort. When that was closed down, he moved in 1966 to Fort Roughs, a disused World War II platform in international waters about 7 miles (13 kilometers) off England's east coast.
Michael Bates said his father initially intended to set up another radio station, but then "had the bizarre idea of declaring independence." Rejecting a British order to leave, he proclaimed the fort the Principality of Sealand, declaring himself Prince Roy and his wife Joan as princess.
The 550-square-meter (5,920-square-foot) fort — two concrete towers connected by an iron platform — claimed to be the world's smallest sovereign state, though it was not internationally recognized.
Since an initial attempt to reclaim the fort was rejected by an English court, Britain has largely ignored the breakaway platform.
Despite the lack of legal status, Bates gave Sealand its own constitution, red, white and black flag, passports, stamps, coins, national anthem and motto: "E Mare Libertas" — "From the Sea, Freedom."
Today, Sealand makes money by selling aristocratic titles and hosting Internet servers.
"I might die young or I might die old, but I will never die of boredom," Bates said in a 1980s interview.
According to Sealand's official website, Bates fought in the Spanish Civil War and worked at London's Smithfield meat market before joining the British army during World War II, serving in North Africa, the Middle East and Italy.
After the war he imported meat from Ireland to the north — where rationing was still in effect — imported rubber from Malaysia and ran fishing boats off England's east coast before founding Sealand.
In his old age Bates moved the mainland, making his son Michael regent and head of state of Sealand.
Michael Bates remembered his father as a "huge, huge character."
"How many people do you know that are discussed by governments and prime ministers?" Michael Bates said. "The history is absolutely amazing."
Bates is survived by Joan, Michael and his daughter Penny.