Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 11 December 2019

Bitcoin-rich couple's sea home to be taken down

UPDATE: Thai Navy boards floating living platform after officials say it violates Thai sovereignty

'Seastead' erected by Bitcoin entrepreneur and US national Chad Elwartowski in waters close to Thailand's coast. EPA
'Seastead' erected by Bitcoin entrepreneur and US national Chad Elwartowski in waters close to Thailand's coast. EPA

The Thai navy on Saturday boarded the floating cabin of a fugitive US citizen and his Thai girlfriend, both prominent members of the "seasteading" movement who possibly face the death sentence for setting up their offshore home.

Thai authorities have revoked the visa of Bitcoin trader Chad Elwartowski and charged him and his partner with violating Thai sovereignty by floating the cabin off the west coast of the Thai island of Phuket.

But Mr Elwartowski said the home was 13 nautical miles out and therefore past Thailand's territorial waters.

The cabin had been promoted as the world's first seastead by the group Ocean Builders, part of a movement to build floating communities beyond the bounds of nations as a way to explore alternative societies and governments. In March, a video was published showing Mr Elwartowski and his partner on the platform.

"I was free for a moment. Probably the freest person in the world," Mr Elwartowski posted on Facebook on April 13, days before the Thai navy raided his vessel.

Mr Elwartowski, 46, was not on board having apparently fled after a surveillance plane flew overhead the previous day, along with his partner Supranee Thepdet, whose Facebook page describes her as a "Bitcoin expert, Trader, Chef, seastead Pioneer".

The US Embassy in Bangkok said Mr Elwartowski had engaged a lawyer and was being provided with appropriate assistance.

epa07513235 A handout photo made available by the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) shows an exterior view of a 'Seastead', a floating 'living platform' in the Andaman Sea, some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket island, southern Thailand, 13 April 2019 (reissued 18 April 2019). According to media reports, Bitcoin entrepreneurs US national Chad Andrew Elwartowski and his Thai wife Supranee Thepdet, have gone into hiding as they fear that they may have to face death penalty after building a home on a platform in international waters close to Thailand's coast with the intent to set up a permanent outpost out of any state territories. EPA/ROYAL THAI NAVY HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
The 'Seastead' floating living platform in the Andaman Sea. EPA

The Thai Navy, which filed a complaint last week to Phuket's police, said the couple did not seek permission to construct their floating platform and a patrol ship was sent out on Saturday to dismantle it.

epa07505314 A handout photo made available by the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) shows Thai naval officers from the Third Naval Area Command and staff judge advocates inspecting a 'Seastead', a floating 'living platform' in the Andaman Sea, some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket island, southern Thailand, 13 April 2019 (issued 14 April 2019). According to media reports, Bitcoin entrepreneurs US national Chad Andrew Elwartowski and his Thai wife Supranee Thepdet, also known by her alias Nadia Summergirl, allegedly built the platform in international waters with the intent to set up a permanent outpost out of any state territories. The structure was said to fall under the jurisdiction of no government but still inside Thailand's exclusive economic zone, media added. Thai authorities consider the platform illegal and it could be ordered to be removed, whereas for the couple they could face criminal charges for allegedly causing the country or parts of it to fall under the sovereignty of a foreign state or deterioration of the state's independence, media quoted local sources as saying. EPA/ROYAL THAI NAVY HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Thai Navy officers approch the Seastead. EPA

"We will do it today if we can," a senior Navy official said earlier on Saturday, adding that it might prove difficult given the depth of the waters where the home is located.

After the seastead is removed, it would be used as evidence against the couple, said a Royal Thai Navy statement, which denied sending "any forces to chase or threaten the couple".

The American's visa has been revoked and if charged and found guilty, the maximum punishment Mr Elwartowski, a software engineer who worked for the US military, and Ms Supranee could be sentenced to is the death penalty.

Mr Elwartowski blogged regularly on Ocean Builders about erecting their ocean-dwelling home, a 6-metre wide octagonal-shaped platform which included a kitchen, bathroom, eating area and bedroom.

The top of the platform served as a deck, which was covered with solar panels, and the whole thing was mounted on a 2-metre-long floating steel "spar", which is anchored to the ocean's floor.

They had recently called for 20 interested investors for new seasteads - costing about $150,000 each - to be built around their maiden platform, and the money would have initially been raised by Bitcoin, Mr Elwartowski said.

So far, five orders have been "lined up", he said.

They were an underwater restaurant, three "SeaBnBs" for vacationers, and a tuna-farming venture - the latter which they had planned to get permission from the Thai government, he said.

Mr Elwartowski has also said Ocean Builders was "apolitical in the goal" and the couple simply wanted to be free.

The seasteading community consists of "tens of thousands" of supporters worldwide, said Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute - a think tank co-founded in 2008 by famed tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel advocating for the "Next New World".

The institute believes seasteading is a solution to modern governments that don't function efficiently under "obsolete political systems", and oceans could be "humanity's next frontier".

"Seasteaders and bitcoin enthusiasts have always been fans of each other, because both communities understand that these innovations will ... solve some of the deepest problems humanity faces," Mr Quirk said.

The US Embassy is "providing all appropriate assistance" to Mr Elwartowski, who has engaged an attorney, an embassy official said.

Updated: April 20, 2019 04:47 PM

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