Thai Navy to tow bitcoin couple's sea home to shore

Thailand's Third Naval Area Command officers and Marine policemen observing a floating home in the Andaman Sea, some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket. The couple who built the house may face the death penalty.
Thailand's Third Naval Area Command officers and Marine policemen observing a floating home in the Andaman Sea, some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket. The couple who built the house may face the death penalty.PHOTO: ROYAL THAI NAVY

BANGKOK • The Thai Navy will begin removing a "seastead" home built by an American bitcoin investor and his partner off the coast of Thailand, an official has said, as the couple remain in hiding from charges accusing them of violating the country's sovereignty.

Chad Elwartowski and his Thai girlfriend, Supranee Thepdet, known as "Bitcoin Girl Thailand", are facing charges of threatening the kingdom's independence after the authorities found their ocean-based home about 12 nautical miles from Phuket's shore.

But Elwartowski said the home was 13 nautical miles away and therefore outside Thailand's territorial waters.

The Thai Navy, which filed a complaint with Phuket's police two weeks ago, said the couple did not seek permission to construct their floating platform.

A patrol ship was sent out yesterday to seize the structure and tow it back to shore for use as evidence, the Royal Thai Navy said in a statement.

"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," said Captain Puchong Rodnikorn, chief of staff of the Operations Squadron of the Third Naval Area Command.

Elwartowski's visa has been revoked. If charged and found guilty, the maximum punishment that he and Ms Supranee could face is the death penalty.

The bitcoin-rich couple - who are still in hiding - are part of Ocean Builders, a community of entrepreneurs who aim to build permanent homes in waters outside of government territory.

Elwartowski, a software engineer who worked for the United States military, blogged regularly on Ocean Builders about erecting their ocean-dwelling home, a 6m-wide octagonal platform which included a kitchen, bathroom, dining area and bedroom.

The top of the platform served as a deck, which was covered with solar panels.

The entire structure was mounted on a 2m-long floating steel "spar" which was anchored to the ocean's floor.

Elwartowski told Agence France-Presse they had recently called for 20 interested investors for new seasteads - each costing about US$150,000 (S$203,250) - to be built around their maiden platform. The money would have initially been raised by bitcoin.

Elwartowski said five orders have been lined up so far.

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

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

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Thai Navy to tow bitcoin couple's sea home to shore'. Print Edition | Subscribe