Posted Nov 10, 2010
I did a little searching to see if much was new in seasteading – the idea of building cities on the sea. No major advances have been made but I did find a synopsis of projects attempted in the past. Thought the group may find this of intreats.
Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them, and so we have studied what little material exists about attempts at seastead-like ventures. We find some of the following quite illustrative. Note that the distinction between “attempted” and “proposed” (the next category) is somewhat arbitrary. Since most nation-founding attempts don’t get past the drawing board, our standards for what constitutes an attempt are fairly low. Also, some of these attempts are still ongoing.
The Freedom Ship
The Freedom Ship [FreedomShip] is a proposal for a mile long “City At Sea” for 40,000 people. The chief architect is an engineer named Norman Nixon. The folks working on this one have managed to generate an extensive amount of press coverage (including Popular Mechanics and the Discovery Channel) and enlist dozens of volunteers. Construction cost, unfortunately, is in the neighborhood of ten billion dollars. While the large size makes the idea newsworthy, it also makes financing extremely difficult. This is especially true when ResidenSea, which was approximately 1/40th the cost, could not sell all its units. It seems fantastically unlikely to us that anyone will finance such a large project until smaller ones have demonstrated that the floating condo concept is viable.
Indeed, no signs have yet been seen of this staggering sum, although the company has built an 11-foot long, 400 pound model, which puts them well ahead of the average project. A lack of transparency has been notable from the beginning, with interested but skeptical people complaining that their criticisms have all been deflected or ignored [Patri_FS]. However, rumour has it that they’ll soon be selling copies of the huge amount of design work they’ve done. Only time will tell whether they can raise the funds for this gigantic project. While we are rather skeptical that it reach fruition in its current form, we would be delighted to be proven wrong.
Another well-publicized venture during the 1990’s was the Aquarius Project, based on the book The Millenial Project by Mashall Savage [Savage1992]. An organization was created called the First Millenial Foundation, which later changed its name to the Living Universe Foundation. Savage proposes building many large floating cities out of hexagonal cells made from a material called Sea-crete or alternatively Seament. They would be powered by OTEC generators, which operate on the temperature differential between surface and deep water. Income comes from mariculture, hydrogen, magnesium, and several other sources. Actually, only the first 100 pages of TMP are about Aquarius, and the remainder discusses the remaining 7 stages necessary to begin colonizing the galaxy. This is an excellent example of the viewpoint that ocean cities are a stepping stone to space colonies.
Unfortunately, while the book is stuffed full of technical information, the basic ideas behind Aquarius are at the very least ahead of their time. They may even be inaccurate. We discuss the flawed calculations behind seacrete [Seacrete] and the currently nascent state of OTEC [OTEC] in more detail later, when explaining why those technologies are not currently part of our plan. In addition, Savage is overly ambitious, focusing on huge cities without any plan for starting with small ones. Unsurprisingly, without prototypes to demonstrate that the ideas were sound, there was not enough interest to build an initial Aquarius settlement.
A seamount is a not-quite island, an underwater mountain without enough oomph to make it to sea level. Like land, seamounts are geographically stable but politically problematic. They can act as breakwaters if they’re close enough to the surface, which is quite useful since waves are one of the major dangers of the ocean. Also they can function as anchoring points or pillar foundations. However if they are raised above sea level, they are vulnerable to claim by land-based jurisdictions, as happened with the Minerva Reef. Since this incident exemplifies the reasons why free-floating sea structures are better politically, we will recount it here.
Michael Oliver, a Las Vegas real estate millionaire, made several nation founding attempts. At one point he focused on the Minerva Reefs, 260 miles southwest of Tonga, which were conveniently outside the territorial waters of any nation and below water at high tide. Quite large, they seemed perfect as a foundation for a new, sovereign territory. His plan was to build them up with sand and create a new island and a new country, and he hired dredges from Australia in 1971. After six months, he proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Minerva, which issued coins.
The only reaction he got was from the Kingdom of Tonga, Minerva’s closest neighbor. A box of supplies was dropped on the new land which said “supplied and maintained by the government of Tonga”, an action said to be supported by other nations in the area. His Majesty then ventured to Minerva with a gang of convicts and a four-member band. They planted the Tongan flag, played the Tongan national anthem, and claimed the sandy patch for Tonga. After they left, the forces of nature did their work, and the sand of Minerva returned slowly to the ocean from whence it had sprung. [Strauss1984 pp. 115-117].
This is a classic example of the lengths to which nations will go to preserve their cartel status – even a worthless patch of sand is seen as competition. If a new nation is created on land (no matter how small or undesirable), it is likely that the nearest traditional nations will claim jurisdiction. It may be possible to negotiate a treaty, but that is likely to be expensive and prospective nation founders are unlikely to have much to bargain with.
The Isle of Roses
The short-lived Isle of Roses offers another excellent example of the antipathy with which countries view nearby nation-founding attempts. As Strauss explains:
Giorgio Rosa was (or is) a professor of engineering in Bologna, Italy. In the early 1960’s, he built a tower in the Adriatic Sea, in water less than 20 feet deep, about 8 miles off the coast of the Italian city of Rimini. This first tower was wrecked by a storm on February 13, 1965. A new one was built, with an area of about 4,000 square feet. It had a bar, a restaurant, a post office, a bank and a store, all surrounded by a promenade. The Italian authorities took no notice (since they only claimed 3 miles from shore as their territorial waters) until May 1, 1968, when the platform was declared to be an independent republic, whose official language was the artificial one Esperanto. The Italians invaded 55 days later, speaking vaguely of such things as “national security, illegality, tax avoidance, maritime obstruction and pornography.” In the spring of 1969, Italian Navy frogmen dynamited the structure. At last report, Rosa did not plan to try again, saying darkly that “This country is all Mafia.”
Mafia or not, this illustrates the extent to which existing countries are willing to brush aside written law if they think a new-country project has the potential to seriuosly inconvenience them.
[Strauss1984, p 129-130]
Another brief example of the greed of traditional nations relates to the Cortes Bank, which lies off the coast of San Diego:
The USS Abalonia was a concrete cargo ship, constructed for the purpose of becoming an independent nation. The company which built it hoped to anchor it in rich shellfish beds on the Cortes Bank, 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, and claim jurisdiction over the area. Shortly after the Abalonia’s launch in 1969, it foundered and sank, nearly killing the crew. In the wake of the Abalonia fiasco, a second company began plans to build a platform on the Cortes Bank and declare it the nation of Taluga. The US government quickly gave notice that the Cortes Bank, as part of the continental shelf, fell within its jurisdiction.
This Ayn Rand-inspired project began as an attempt to found a modern-day Galt’s Gulch. The organizers placed a declaration of sovereignty and request for a host nation in several high-profile publications, including The Economist (6/10/95, 8/12/95). Media such as the London Times and BBC World Radio covered the story, and 3000 people from 108 different countries contacted the founding Trust.
Unfortunately, the response from potential sites was less enthusiastic. The principals followed several leads without finding an acceptable locations (although their standards may have been a bit high – the shallow shoals which LFC turned down would be more than sufficient for our purposes). With no land in sight, LFC transitioned to seeking freedom in cyberspace, developing tools for digital freedom.
Eventually, due to personality problems and poor business practices stemming from one of the founders and major financers of the project, LFC was dissolved. Their early experiences exemplify two of our claims about nation founding: that there is a large potential market, and that it is extraordinarily difficult to get sovereignty from existing nations.
Their webpage states:
Dedicated to creating ecologically balanced, floating ocean communities and terra-formed, permacultured islands, grown from the mineral-rich waters of the tropical oceans. We wish to share our creations and technologies to help expand the unity, prosperity and quality of life, of all the people of Earth.
This currently active project is based in Costa Rica, and the fact that its principals were willing to relocate there suggests that they are serious. Their website contains a timeline, including the steps they have completed. They are currently in the stage where they are beginning to need financing, which is a very difficult time for any project. While they pitch the seacrete + OTEC combination which we later debunk, they also acknowledge that seacrete is not ready for prime-time yet and plan to start with ferrocement. Their designs are partly based on the Monolithic Dome Institute [MDI], which is another good sign, as the MDI has helped construct hundreds of concrete domes. They believe, as do we, in teaching by example rather than rhetoric. Unfortunately they seem to be looking mainly to donations for initial funding. It seems to be the most mature environmentally motivated project.
The Principality of Sealand [Sealand] is arguably the most (perhaps the only) succesful new-country project in recent history. It was founded in 1967, when Roy Bates, a pirate radio operator, moved into an abandoned WWII anti-aircraft platform called Rough’s Tower. The platform was located about 7 miles off the British coast, which was then in international waters.
Several incidents have supported the Principality’s claims of independence. Sealand fired warning shots at a nearby repair boat, who took King Roy to court over the matter. The ruling was that the tower was outside of the court’s jurisdiction. Later, some German men briefly seized the platform by force, and were captured in a helicopter raid. One was kept as a prisoner for several weeks, during which period the German government appealed to the British government for help. However, the British Foreign Office said that the tower was beyond their jurisdiction [Strauss1984, p. 132-138].
More recently, Prince Roy has retired, and Sealand was leased to a company called HavenCo [Havenco] for several years as a data haven. Unfortunately, the experiment was ended in 2003 because of worries about the country being blamed for aiding terrorism. There have been suggestions of expanding Sealand by damming off and then draining an area around it. It will be interesting to see if this upstart country can continue to maintain its independence, and whether it can turn sovereignty into business opportunities.
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