Cryptocurrency fans set off on cruise before bitcoin sank

Blockchain Cruise guests relaxing on Paradise Beach as their cruise ship sat offshore in Phuket, Thailand, on Wednesday.
Blockchain Cruise guests relaxing on Paradise Beach as their cruise ship sat offshore in Phuket, Thailand, on Wednesday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

But group on Blockchain Cruise unfazed, expecting further spikes

HONG KONG • When 600 cryptocurrency enthusiasts set sail from Singapore on Monday night for their second annual Blockchain Cruise, the price of bitcoin was hovering comfortably above US$13,500.

By the time their 1,020ft-long ship pulled into Thailand on Wednesday, for an afternoon of bottomless drinks and crypto-focused talks on a sun-soaked private beach, bitcoin had cratered to US$10,000.

The group consisted largely of young men, many of whom became wildly rich - at least on paper - as bitcoin and other digital tokens skyrocketed last year. In all likelihood, they had just lost millions.

But if anyone was fazed, they did not show it. The party rolled on as the sangria and Red Bull flowed, bitcoin-themed rap music blared and drones filmed it all from above.

"Nothing goes up in a straight line," explained Mr Ronnie Moas, the founder of Miami Beach-based Standpoint Research, who was one of the event's speakers on Wednesday. In a best-case scenario, he said, bitcoin could jump to US$300,000 in as little as seven years.

For sceptics of the crypto craze, it is hard not to see all this as another sign of runaway exuberance - a repeat of the boosterish Las Vegas securitisation conference that preceded the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of 2007.

But the steadfast optimism on display at this week's Blockchain Cruise also carries a warning for anyone betting on a cryptocurrency crash: It is going to take more than a 50 per cent drop in bitcoin from its Dec 18 high to drive out the diehards.

The cruise's eclectic list of speakers included Mr Jose Gomez, a former aide to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez; Mr Kaspar Korjus, the head of Estonia's e-residency programme; and Mr Jorg Molt, an early digital currency backer whose claim to hold 250,000 bitcoins (worth US$2.8 billion, or S$3.7 billion, at the current price) could not be verified.

But perhaps the biggest draw on the Blockchain Cruise was Mr John McAfee, the anti-virus software pioneer with a chequered past. In 2012, while living in Belize, Mr McAfee had run-ins with local police for alleged unlicensed drug manufacturing and weapons possession, but was released without charge. At one point, Belize police started a search for him as a person of interest in connection with the murder of his neighbour. Mr McAfee said he was innocent and that he fled Belize because of persecution by corrupt officials.

He now helps run MGT Capital Investments, a small-cap tech company with a bitcoin mining business. He has become a cryptocurrency evangelist on Twitter. Coinsbank, the digital currency exchange and wallet operator that organised the cruise, made him a headline speaker.

On Wednesday, Mr McAfee blamed the recent market slump on unfounded fear of government intervention. He urged cryptocurrency holders - one of whom sported a "Buy The Dip" T-shirt - to stick with their bets.

Mr Joe Stone, an Australian who invests in digital assets, said market declines are easier to bear in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

"There's nowhere I'd rather be," he said, after a late night of mingling at the ship's cigar bar over whiskys. "Otherwise I'd just be at my computer."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Cryptocurrency fans set off on cruise before bitcoin sank'. Print Edition | Subscribe