Thailand’s navy has dismantled the floating home of a fugitive U.S. citizen and his Thai girlfriend, who face possible death sentences for setting up their offshore cabin in a way that Thai authorities claim violated the country’s sovereignty.
Bitcoin trader Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, both prominent members of the “seasteading” movement that seeks to explore alternative societies and governments outside of national jurisdictions, escaped before the navy’s initial April 18 raid and remain in hiding.
The Royal Thai Navy dispatched three boats on April 22 to dismantle the structure and bring it back to shore, for use as evidence in the government’s case against the couple.
“The couple announced on social media declaring their autonomy beyond the jurisdiction of any courts or law of any countries, including Thailand,” Rear Adm. Vithanarat Kochaseni told reporters, adding they had invited others to join them. “We see such action as deteriorating Thailand’s independence.”
The floating home was set on top of a spar more than 12 nautical miles off the Thai island of Phuket.
Elwartowski and Thepdet lived in the structure for two months before they left, ahead of the raid. They have both been charged with violating Thai sovereignty, punishable by the death penalty or life in prison.
The couple’s whereabouts are unknown.
‘Thailand Wants Us Killed’
Elwartowski and Thepdet sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
In a Facebook post on April 15—since deleted—Elwartowski wrote, “Thailand wants us killed.”
“Hunting us down to our death is just plain stupid and highlights exactly the reason someone would be willing to go out in the middle of the ocean to get away from governments,” he wrote. “We never had any ill intentions and I even stated plainly several times that I would not want to be a citizen of any seastead nation that would have me.”
The couple wrote on their website that the floating home was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, at least 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket.
“It’s designed to ignite an entire libertarian movement of freedom seekers gearing up to live in permanent dwellings at sea—outside of the jurisdiction of any government,” wrote Thepdet.
The claim is supported by an official statement released by Ocean Builders, the company who built the couple’s floating home, officially called XLII, and billed as “the first seastead.”
“Our AIS beacon is still displaying our position 13 nautical miles from Thailand, outside of Thailand’s territorial waters,” Ocean Builders wrote.
“It is claimed by the Thai navy through their media mouthpieces that the seastead is in a shipping lane,” Ocean Builders wrote. “This makes it sound like there is heavy cargo traffic coming to Phuket. If anyone knows Phuket, they have one cargo port that gets maybe one or two cargo ships a week. They also admit that the seastead is in international waters, at least 12 nautical miles from land.”
But a Thai deputy naval commander insisted the project was a threat.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Kotchaseni told Thai media on April 16, as cited by The Associated Press. He said the floating house also would pose a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose, because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Thai authorities cited by Reuters said the structure is within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone and on those grounds, its construction is a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
Thai police Col. Nikorn Somsuk told the South China Morning Post that officials are seeking clarification with the attorney general on how to proceed with the case, since the outpost was technically in international waters.
He also hinted the couple may not face the most serious punishment.
The couple has been charged with article 119 of the Thai Criminal Code, which prohibits any acts that cause a deterioration of Thailand’s independence.
‘Excited About the Project’
“We were hoping to bring tourism to Phuket with an underwater restaurant, floating hotels, and medical research, tech jobs, etc. We had three wealthy entrepreneurs in the past week tell us they were coming to live in Phuket, because they were excited about the project,” Elwartowski wrote on Facebook.
A promotional video from March showed the couple toasting champagne on the floating home.
“Ocean Builders is selling this oceanfront property at a fraction of the cost of any other place you would get oceanfront property,” Elwartowski says in the video, plugging the project as “something completely brand new.”
He added the home was the first of an additional 20 homes planned.
“May the seastead be a beacon to freedom lovers everywhere,” Elwartowski said in the video.
Meanwhile, Ocean Builders announced that due to the raid, the sale of its seastead homes “is to be postponed until we can get everything straightened out and figure out the best path forward for everyone.”
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According to the company’s website, “seasteading is the concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea, called seasteads, outside the territory claimed by any government. The term is a combination of the words sea and homesteading.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.