The Royal Thai Navy last Friday (Apr 12) filed a criminal charge with the Wichit Police of the couple breaching Section 119 of Criminal Code, reported the Bangkok Post on Saturday. (See story here.)
The section concerns any acts that cause the country or parts of it to fall under the sovereignty of a foreign state or deterioration of the state’s independence. It is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
While the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, see here), which Thailand is a signatory to, stipulates “Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention,” the location of the prototype seastead may well be within Thailand Economic Exclusion zone.
The location of the seastead as given by the Navy puts the structure at 7º 29.37 N, 98º 34.91 E, which is 27.5km (14.8nm) east of Koh Racha Noi and 25.22km (13.61nm ) southwest of Koh Bida Nok, south of Phi Phi Island. Both distances are more than the 12nm allowed by UNCLOS.
The American, Chad Elwartowski, told The Phuket News, “I consulted with a lawyer there in Phuket as we were hoping to open a Board of Investment company in Thailand. The lawyer told me that because we are in international waters I did not need to register a business. I said that I want to make sure that we are ok with the Thai government. She assured me that Thailand wasn’t like that.
“Our plan was to see if we could even get orders before going to the Ministry of Tourism or as high up as we could go in Bangkok to get permission to move forward with more seasteads. The initial seastead was to be donated to a local university to be used for marine biology or marine engineering as we moved forward with nicer designs,” he added.
“We wanted to make sure that we actually had something to show the Thai government before we went to talk to them about having more seasteads. The seastead was only in the water for about two months so we needed to drum up support and buyers.
“We followed all regulations for an object in the water. We had a solar beacon on top of the seastead that lit up a very bring blinking anchor light at night. We also had a registered AIS beacon that is used by larger ships for their navigation.
“The boats out there are mainly fishing boats but we would get waves from the captains as they came by,” Mr Elwartowski, a computer systems analyst and a graduate from Florida Institute of Technology, explained.
The seastead is the prototype built under the Ocean Builders project, which states that Mr Elwartowski and his Thai partner Supranee “Nadia” Thepdet were just volunteers who stayed on the platform to document their experience. (See website here.)
Mr Elwartowski, a Bitcoin enthusiast, told the Motherboard blog of renowned documentary specialists Vice.com that he had enough in cryptocurrency holdings to retire and Ms Supranee posts online as “Bitcoin Girl Thailand.” (See report here.)
Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute advocacy group, directed a short documentary series about the pair, titled “The First Seasteaders”, the report noted. (See video here.)
“Nadia and I did not design, construct or pay to have the seastead constructed. We promoted it and lived on it. We helped out by giving the builder updates and we participated in the launch. We did not decide where to put the seastead. We are enthusiastic supporters of the project who were lucky enough to be the first ones to stay on it,” Mr Elwartowski told The Phuket News.
“We never had any ill intentions and I even state plainly several times that I would not want to be a citizen of any seastead nation that would have me. 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. We love Thailand. Nadia is a proud Thai. She is a proud Buddhist who does not support violence. I am a pacifist who would not harm a fly,” he added.
While the criminal charge against the couple was filed on Friday, Mr Elwartowski says that no officials have contacted either of them.
“No Thai official has attempted to contact us. When we heard that the seastead was considered a threat to national security we immediately tried contacting media and had a friend in the military try to talk to them on our behalf. He informed us that they were too busy… there was no getting through to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Elwartowski maintains hope that a sensible dialogue can be opened, and that the project may continue.
The finished units were to have rounded off walls with a diametre of nearly seven metres, slightly wider than the prototype, built on a deck six metres wide with a walkway was to be featured around the exterior. The “owner’s suite” interiors were to feature a bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. Even the spar, three metres wide, supporting the seasteads was usable space.
“Our short term goal, now that our initial platform is proven to be safe, will be to build 20 more platforms which we will sell to pioneering spirits who wish to be the world’s first seasteaders,” Mr Elwartowski said.
The April 15 launch for investors by Ocean Builders has now been postponed.
“We hope this issue can be resolved diplomatically with the Thai government and are ready to talk to anyone in charge at any time. We have tried several times to talk to anyone but were always told that we have nothing to worry about because we are legally in international waters,” Mr Elwartowski posted on the Ocean Builders website.
“The April 15th sale of seasteads is to be postponed until we can get everything straightened out and figure out the best path forward for everyone,’ he added.