April 18, 2019 11:58 am
Updated: April 22, 2019 1:38 pm

Bitcoin couple fears death penalty for ‘seasteading’ off Thailand

WATCH: Couple abandons "seastead" amid crackdown by Thai navy

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An American investor and his girlfriend have gone into hiding after Thailand declared their floating ocean home in violation of its sovereign territory — a crime punishable by death or life in prison.

Bitcoin entrepreneurs Chad Elwartowski and Nadia Supranee Thepdet say they’ve fled the floating concrete home where they’d been living as part of a libertarian-inspired movement known as “seasteading.”

“We lived on a floating houseboat for a few weeks, and now Thailand wants us killed,” Elwartowski wrote in a Facebook post on April 15. He deleted the post and a followup post on Thursday morning.

Chad Elwartowski, right, and Nadia Supranee Thepdet talk about living in an ocean home in this image from video.

Seasteading/YouTube

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Thailand’s government says the two seasteaders were living as a micro-nation inside its sovereign territory in violation of the country’s criminal code. Thai officials are also concerned the seastead might obstruct international shipping lanes and put cargo ships at risk.

The Third Thai Naval Area Command has filed a police complaint against the couple, the Bangkok Post reports. The Navy says the ocean home is 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket and therefore still within Thai territory.

Elwartowski argues the home is more than 13 nautical miles offshore and therefore in international waters. He says he and Thepdet were only living in the ocean house to promote it, and they did not design, build or pay for it.

“We did not decide where to put the seastead,” Elwartowski wrote in his now-deleted Facebook post on April 15 after fleeing the home. “We are enthusiastic supporters of the project who were lucky enough to be the first ones to stay on it.”

He says he’s gone into hiding with Thepdet and that they now fear for their lives. They’re also worried about losing all of their possessions if the Thai navy decides to destroy the tiny structure.

Thailand has not publicly threatened to execute the couple.

What is seasteading?

Seasteaders seek to live free of government interference on international waters, according to Ocean Builders, the company that built Elwartowski’s home. The couple has been documenting their life on Ocean Builders’ platform as part of a promotional series on YouTube since March.

“Ocean Builders is selling this oceanfront property at a fraction of the cost of any other place you would get ocean property,” Elwartkowski says in one of the company’s promotional videos.

Ocean Builders says it designed and paid for the seastead and it’s concerned for the safety of the building’s first occupants.

“We hope this issue can be resolved diplomatically with the Thai government and are ready to talk to anyone in charge at any time,” the company said in a statement on April 15.

The house itself is a small octagonal structure sitting atop a hollow concrete pillar that floats in the ocean. Ocean Builders says the design is inspired by oil rigs.

A seastead ocean home is shown off the coast of Thailand in this image from video.

YouTube/Seasteading

Elwartowski was an early Bitcoin investor and one of several entrepreneurs who operate Ocean Builders. Thepdet is a Bitcoin advocate from Thailand who goes by the name Nadia Summergirl.

The seasteading movement has become popular among libertarian entrepreneurs, including billionaire Peter Thiel, who was an early investor in Facebook.

Thiel is co-founder of the Seasteading Institute, an organization that aims to build an independent floating city off the coast of French Polynesia. The city would govern itself and use its own cryptocurrency with the intention of avoiding as much government regulation and taxes as possible. It would also be built as a haven against rising global sea levels.

Ocean Builders appears to be working in concert with the Seasteading Institute. Seasteading Institute president Joe Quirk directed one of the Ocean Builders’ videos, and Elwartowski referred an interview request to the company’s press office. The Seasteading Institute did not respond to an interview request.

WATCH: Thai navy tows floating home of U.S. fugitive to shore

Ocean Builders had planned to start collecting money for 20 new seasteads on April 15, according to its website. However, the company has postponed the collection process until it gets “everything straightened out” with the Thai government.

The first 20 floating homes are expected to be sold at cost for a target price of US$150,000 to $200,000, Elwartowski wrote in a blog post on Ocean Builders’ site in February.

The company says a beacon on the platform is still broadcasting from a position 13 nautical miles off the coast of Thailand.

“This indicates to us that the structure is still there,” Ocean Builders wrote in a statement.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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