The inspection, conducted with reporters on board, showed no residents on the platform at the time of the visit.
The Phuket News reporter on board was told that the Navy had already made one attempt to remove the structure, but had to abandon that effort for reasons not explained.
The Phuket News was also told today that officials will meet tomorrow to finalise the plan to have the structure dismantled and removed from the site, with another attempt possible as early as Monday.
The inspection today follows Royal Thai Navy spokesman Vice Admiral Karn Dee-ubon issuing a statement yesterday (Apr 19) to present the Navy’s version of events in the seastead saga that has resulted in Phuket and Thailand suffering from headlines in international media like “US man may face death penalty for living on floating home in Andaman Sea” or “Bitcoin couple may face death penalty in Thailand over seasteading effort”and similar.
The Navy started its statement by saying that “American national Chad Andrew Elwartowsky, 46, and his Thai partner announced via YouTube their success in establishing an ‘autonomous region’ in the middle of the sea near Phuket”.
“On behalf of Ocean Builders project the couple organised construction and installation of a ‘floating house’ outside of Thai territorial sea,” the statement said.
According to the statement, the seasteading platform was constructed by Phuket Premier Boatyard Co Ltd and successfully installed at 7º 29.37 N, 98º 34.91 E, which is about 14.8 nautical miles southeast of Racha islands and within the Thailand’s contiguous zone (and thus within Thailand’s exclusive economic zone as well).
Unlike many previous media reports, the Navy’s statement makes it clear that the seastead is not within Thai territorial waters, but still within the zone over which the Kingdom of Thailand has special rights regarding exploration of resources, construction of structures and so on.
According to the Navy’s timeline of events – which doesn’t fully coincide with previous reports – first actions were taken on April 12, when an aircraft was sent to locate the aforementioned seasteading platform.
On April 13 another inspection was conducted, this time by navy patrol ship Tor 991. Officials checked the platform but found no residents on it. Later the same day the Navy and Phuket officials held a press conference for media and started checks of Phuket businesses which may have built the seastead, the statement says.
Then, on April 15, the Navy filed a criminal charge with local police against Mr Elwartowski for alleged breach of Section 119 of the Criminal Code, which 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.
Of note, previously it was reported that charges were filed on April 12 and not against Mr Elwartowski alone, but also against his Thai partner Supranee ‘Nadia’ Thepdet. The latter is not even named in the statement. Only twice does the statement mention “Mr Elwartowski and his wife” (ภรรยา).
The Navy states that by April 17 Immigration Police revoked Mr Elwartowski’s permission to stay in Thailand and his name was added to the immigration blacklist. Meanwhile, Wichit Police continued collecting evidence on the case while provincial official were coordinating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get the US Embassy involved.
Phuket Premier Boatyard – named as the builder of the seastead – was inspected and found operating without a necessary factory license. The shipyard was ordered to stop operations immediately, the statement said.
The Phuket office of the Marine Department issued a warning for all boats to exercise caution in the area where the seastead is located and to not interfere with it in any way as it is considered to be evidence in a criminal case.
The statement said that the object should have had removed by the owner within 30 days in accordance with the Navigation in Thai Waters Act (1913), but as it had not been removed by the owner, the Phuket Marine Office and the Royal Thai Navy will take it ashore on their own. Then the object will be seized as evidence, the statement added.
The platform should be removed from its current location and taken ashore next Monday (April 22), said a reporter of The Phuket News present at the announcement.
The official statement did not mention when exactly the 30-day deadline expired. It was also not clarified whether the “owner” (be it Mr Elwartowski or Ocean Builders) ever received an order to do so.
Yet, the statement stressed that since learning about the alleged breach of law the Navy had followed all legal procedures, notified relevant authorities and followed the laws.
“The Navy did not send troops to follow or threaten Mr Elwartowski as he and his partner told foreign media,” the statement said.
The statement also warned against any people attempting to exploit loopholes in the law to proceed without requesting permission from the authorities of Thailand in any way in order to build a permanent settlement in the sea by claiming it is outside the sovereignty of the state.
Doing so “could have enormous effects on the stability of Thailand and will affect the economy, society and the interests of the nation”, the statement read.
“If no corrective action is taken such problems may be broadened and become difficult to resolve,” it noted.
“In order to protect the independence, sovereignty and national security of the sea that no one can violate, the Navy therefore has coordinated with various agencies that are responsible for enforcing laws to continue to solve this problem according to the relevant laws,” the statement added.