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Hunt continues for seastead couple

PHUKET: Police are continuing their hunt for American American Chad Elwartowski, 46, and his Thai partner Supranee Thepdet, who as of yesterday had been tracked to the southern island of Tarutao, on the Malaysian border, police have confirmed.

By The Phuket News

Wednesday 24 April 2019, 11:58AM

Phuket Provincial Police Chief Maj Gen Wisan Panmanee told a press conference late yesterday (Apr 23) that the couple had been tracked to Tarutao by a mobile phone signal.

“But the phone has now been switched off,” he said.

Gen Wisan made no comment on whether Malaysian authorities had been contacted to assist with apprehending the couple, who are now wanted under arrest warrants for breach of Section 119 of the Criminal Code, he explained.

The couple are wanted for their involvement in the construction and installation of a “seastead” some 42km south of Phuket – a claim that the couple have repeatedly denied. They were just the people who lived on the prototype to give their assessment, Mr Elwartowski had told The Phuket News earlier. (See story here.)

The Royal Thai Navy has deemed the “seastead” to be a threat to national security and confirmed that although the living platform and module was installed just outside the 12-nautical-mile limit for Thai territorial waters, it was within Thailand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as permitted under the United Nationals Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The seastead, which has now been removed from its site and brought back to Phuket, was the the first of 20 more such structures that were to be built and installed at the location, Gen Wisan explained.

“This presents a new form of threat to national security. It cannot be tolerated,” he said, adding that all relevant laws are to be applied in the case.

Section 119 relates to threats to national security, and punishment under the section may incur the death penalty.

Gen Wisan yesterday re-confirmed that Mr Elwartowski’s visa had been revoked, making him an illegal alien in the country.

However, he also confirmed that no arrest warrant had been issued yet for the American.

“We will wait for the Public Prosecutor to conduct their initial investigation, then we will request an arrest warrant,” he said.

The move to delay the arrest warrant, which must stipulate the exact law allegedly breached by the suspect, follows Lt Col Siriwat Inyim, Deputy Chief of the Wichit Police, which has been tasked with conducting the police investigation into the seastead, explaining to The Phuket News last Friday (Apr 19) that he will not ask the Public Prosecutor to move ahead with a charge under Section 119 if he does not find any evidence that the seastead threatened national security.

“Instead, I will ask the Public Prosecutor to file a much lesser charge, one that very likely will not include the death penalty,” he said.

However, Col Siriwat also noted, “I will have to still attach the Navy complaint to my recommendation as that is required by standard procedure.” (See story here.)

In contrast, regarding the arrest of Mr Elwartowski’s Thai partner Ms Supranee, Gen Wisan yesterday confirmed that police will not even request an arrest warrant.

“We would like to talk to her to assist with our investigation,” he said.

Also at the press conference were Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana and Vice Admiral Sittiporn Maskasem, Commander of the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command, based at Cape Panwa.

V/Adm Sittiporn confirmed that the seastead had been seized through a Navy operation involving three Navy boats, and had been brought back to Phuket in two sections on Monday.

The living module returned to Phuket aboard the HTMS Mannai landing craft during the day, while the supporting spar was towed slowly back to Phuket by the HTMS Rin, arriving at the Phuket Deep Sea Port at about 9:30pm.

“The living module and the supporting spar have been moved onto land at the port and are now both under guard as evidence to be examined by investigators,” he said.

Regarding the ongoing investigation, Vice Admiral Sittiporn noted, “Police have completed questioning relevant persons.”

That comment followed Phuket Vice Governor Supot Rotreuang Na Nongkhai on Monday saying, “All this evidence seized will be held for Wichit Police investigators. They will expedite their investigation, which is expected to be concluded within one week.

“All the evidence seized and the records of their investigation will be handed over to the Public Prosecutor as soon as possible.”

Phuket Governor Phakaphong also repeated the report by Phuket Industry Chief Siwat Rawangkul last Friday, noting that officials had inspected a boatyard in Mai Khao last Wednesday (Apr 17) that had been confirmed as being hired to build the seastead and install it at its some 42 kilometres south of Phuket.

In a very brief report, Mr Siwat said that the boatyard’s company documents were all in order. However officials had yet to examine the facility’s permit to operate as a place of production as required under the Factory Act 1992, he added.

No charges had yet been brought against the boatyard operator, but officials were continuing their investigation, Mr Siwat said.

Phuket Governor Phakaphong yesterday had no more details to reveal regarding that investigation.

“The investigation is still continuing,” he said.

Meanwhile, V/Adm Sittiporn urged people to repot to the Royal Thai Navy any similar seastead structures found in the area.

“The Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command needs local residents to please tell us or the relevant government agencies if find any seasteading networks in Phuket.

“We will continue to use the law to control them, because this case can be considered a new type of threat that has now occurred in Thailand, and in the world,” he said.



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Kurt | 24 April 2019 - 12:22:43

Perhaps all these thai Officials who are so "national Security + threat' sensitive should get vaccinated against being oversensitive.  They keep dragging on and on about that simple seastead. Quite simple. Is all this just to keep peoples attention focussed on a minor thing instead of the big Phuket water problem?

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