The Thai navy has boarded the floating cabin of a fugitive American Bitcoin investor and his girlfriend after they were warned they could face the death penalty for setting up their offshore home.
Thai authorities revoked Chad Elwartowski’s visa and charged him and girlfriend Supranee Thepdet with violating Thai sovereignty by having the cabin 14 miles off the west coast of the island of Phuket.
The cabin had been promoted as the world’s first ‘seastead’ by the group Ocean Builders.
Chad Elwartowski, pictured with girlfriend Supranee Thepdet, claims to have proof that his ‘seastead’ home was outside Thai territorial waters after the country raided the property threatened him with the death penalty
Thai naval officers from the Third Naval Area Command approach the ‘seastead’ floating cabin in the Andaman Sea, 14 miles off the coast of Phuket
He says a GPS beacon placed on his home by a researcher recorded the coordinates where it was located, and Google’s mapping feature shows it was 14 nautical miles from a Thai island – two miles outside the country’s territorial waters
A gun from the Thai navy’s ship looks on to the small floating home in the middle of the sea
It is part of a movement to build floating communities beyond the bounds of nations as a way to explore alternative societies and governments.
‘I was free for a moment. Probably the freest person in the world,’ Elwartowski posted on Facebook on April 13, days before the Thai navy raided his vessel.
Countries can claim a ‘contiguous zone’ from between 12 and 24 nautical miles from shore, which allows it to apply a limited number of laws.
However, these can only be to prevent or punish ‘infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea.’
A Thai naval vessel sails by the floating cabin. It is part of a movement to build floating communities beyond the bounds of nations as a way to explore alternative societies and governments
A floating home, lived in by an American man and his Thai partner, is pictured in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket Island in Thailand
Mr Elwartowski and Miss Thepdet have been in hiding since Thai authorities raided their home on last week, saying they fear for their lives
The Thai navy claims their ‘seastead’ is 12 nautical miles from the shore but Elwartowski said it was 14 miles and so in international waters
Elwartowski claims he ‘did not do anything on the seastead that was not legal on land’, raising doubts over whether these laws would apply to him.
Crypto traders are said to be leading the charge to ‘establish micronations’, outside known territorial borders by exploiting a loophole in international law.
It is thought Elwartowski, who was part of the first group to adopt Bitcoin and made his money trading crypo-currencies, paid $150,000 for the seastead.
Elwartowski, 46, was not on board having apparently fled after a surveillance plane flew overhead the previous day.
Thepdet, whose Facebook page describes her as a ‘Bitcoin expert, Trader, Chef, seastead Pioneer’, was said to be with him.
‘Seasteaders’ Bitcoin Girl Thailand and Chad Elwartowski enjoying the golden beaches of Thailand. The kingdom has accused the coupe of violating its sovereignty
Chad Elwartowski and ‘Nadia’ Supranee Thepdet posted pictures online of them sipping Champagne on their ‘floating platform’ off the coast of Phuket island, southern Thailand
The US Embassy in Bangkok said Elwartowski had spoke to a lawyer and was being provided with appropriate assistance.
The Royal Thai Navy had planned to seize the structure today and tow it back to shore for use as evidence.
In a video posted last month detailing the construction of the floating home, Elwartowski said 20 more similar houses would be up for sale to form a community.
Chad Elwartowski (left) and girlfriend Supranee Thepdet (left and right) posted a series of pictures on Instagram of the couple enjoying the Thai sunshine
A naval worker fastens a rope under the cabin. The Royal Thai Navy had planned to seize the structure today and tow it back to shore for use as evidence
Supranee Thepdet documented the couple’s quest to build a home out at sea with pictures on social media
Elwartowski and Ocean Builders say the vessel was in international waters and beyond Thailand’s jurisdiction.
But Thai authorities said it is in the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone – therefore a violation of its sovereignty.
A Thai navy task force inspected the floating home today as it prepared to tow it back to Phuket.
Captain Puchong Rodnikorn, chief of staff of the Operations Squadron of the Third Naval Area Command, said ‘We will invite technical units and officials who have inspected the object to consult on the methods of towing to minimise damage.
‘Once the sea house reaches the shore, the owner of this house can come to inspect it, as well as come forward to the Thai authorities in order to prove themselves in the legal process.’
Supranee Thepdet and her boyfriend Chad Elwartowski are facing charges that could be punishable by death over their alleged bid to build their own ‘micronation’
Thai navy officers inspecting a ‘seastead’ – a floating ‘living platform’ in the Andaman Sea – some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket island, southern Thailand, last week
Thepdet and her boyfriend are facing the death penalty over their alleged bid to launch their own ‘micronation’ off the coast of Thailand
The navy said it had evidence the floating home was built in a private boatyard in Phuket and the couple wanted to establish a ‘permanent settlement at sea beyond the sovereignty of nations by using a legal loophole’.
It said the action ‘reveals the intention of disobeying the laws of Thailand and could lead to a creation of a new state within Thailand’s territorial waters’.
It added that this would undermine Thailand’s national security as well as the economic and social interests of maritime nations.
The couple allegedly built the platform in international waters with the intent to set up a permanent outpost out of any state territories
Thailand’s navy takes a dim view of any attempts to threaten the country’s sovereignty, the kingdom’s police said
When asked by reporters, Elwartowski referred all questions to the Seasteading Institute and pointed to online statements from the Ocean Builders website.
Elwartowski and Supranee are members of Ocean Builders, which has denied they were planning to set up an independent state or ‘micro nation’.
The group said the pair did not build, invest in or design the floating home themselves, but were ‘volunteers excited about the prospect of living free’.
According to Ocean Builders, the concept of seasteading has been discussed for years but the cabin Elwartowski and Supranee lived on was the first attempt at living in what it described as international waters.
Other groups, such as the Seasteading Institute – which was originally backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel – have looked to build floating cities with the cooperation of host nations.