The enthusiastic and pioneering  Chad Elwartowski’s actions between February and April 2019 have opened himself and his Thai partner up to prosecution by Thai authorities. They have also left him and his partner on the run. Although a complaint has been made under the draconian Section 119 of Thailand’s criminal code which could see any individual if successfully prosecuted, facing the prospect of life imprisonment or a death sentence, there are indications that Thai authorities may ultimately opt for lesser charges against the American. He has already been blacklisted and had his visa cancelled. The removal of his seasteading structure this week and its preservation as evidence is a key step by Thai authorities who are now seeking to resolve the matter. However, there could yet be troubling and painful consequences for the 46 year old American pursuing a vision which, unfortunately for him, left him directly challenging Thai sovereignty on the Andaman sea.

Thai officials are believed to be preparing moves to prosecute the American Thai seasteading couple which will soon lead to arrest warrants being sought against the pair in court. The couple are believed to be in hiding in Thailand and are receiving consular support from the American Embassy in Bangkok. Senior Thai officials are now looking closely at the legal situation and nature of charges to be brought as well as other legal actions that may be required.

Group Captain Puchong Rodnikorn (left) of the Royal Thai Navy who has been involved in a successful operation on Monday and Tuesday to remove the Ocean Builder seastead structure that was launched 14 nautical miles south of Phuket in February by American Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, his Thai wife (right bottom), as the beginning of a new community outside the jurisdiction of Thailand. The couple hailed it as an opportunity to forge new and better governance. A complaint was filed by representatives of the Royal Thai Navy on April 15th at Wichit police station in Phuket under a deliberately draconian and harsh section in Thailand’s penal code, Section 119, which forbids any action which comprises Thailand’s sovereignty. Successful prosecution under this stern provision would leave the American and his Thai wife open to a sentence of life imprisonment or even the death. This however is thought to be highly unlikely. International coverage of the controversy with Mr Elwartowski and his Thai partner in hiding, has drawn world media attention to the matter. It is now thought that a lesser charge may be pursued by prosecutors but this is not confirmed and there are mixed signals. Certainly, moves are soon to be made to bring charges against the 46 year old American and his 29 year old Thai wife in the Thai courts and to seek arrest warrants. The couple are reported to be in hiding in Thailand in what the American has described as a ‘safe place’ in media interviews. (Reuters)

The Royal Thai Navy has successfully removed a sea steading structure erected by an American bitcoin millionaire 14 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket in the Andaman sea. The structure had become the focus of a controversial plan extensively promoted by American Chad Elwartowski and his Thai wife Supranee Thepdet online. The goal was to create an independent jurisdiction or community off Thailand’s coast which senior Thai officials now insist constituted a dangerous breach of Thai sovereignty.

The Thai Navy on Monday towed away the seastead erected by the American bitcoin millionaire and moved it to Phuket where it is to be held as evidence for any forthcoming legal process. The attention in the saga now moves to what charges, if any, will be pressed against the American and his Thai wife, Supranee Thepdet.

Reports that American and his Thai wife are still in Thailand in a very ‘safe place’

There is speculation that the couple are still in Thailand. A complaint was filed by the Thai Navy on April 15th through its officials at Wichit Police Station in Phuket. It referenced the draconian Section 119 of the Thai criminal code which carries the weightiest of sanctions including life imprisonment and the death penalty. It is thought that any such outcome is highly unlikely however or indeed unwanted.

Charges expected to be filed soon against American seastead pioneer over maritime dispute

What is becoming clear is that charges will be forthcoming against the American in the coming weeks perhaps even sooner. It is also not clear at all if the American man’s Thai wife will be charged either as a principle or an accomplice to her husband’s activities.

Thai authorities view the actions of 46 year old Chad Elwartowski as a very serious matter

It is clear, on the other hand, that Thailand’s authorities, at the most senior level and within the security forces, view the actions of the 46 year old American in a very serious light. They particularly reference his video communications where he expressly calls for other people to join him and his Thai wife to live and govern in an independent community off the Thai coast. The American, in these videos, makes it clear that it will be outside the jurisdiction of the Thai kingdom and will make its own laws. This has been repeatedly referred to by Thailand’s naval top brass. Even on Monday, Rear Admiral Withanarat Kochaseni while aboard the HTMS Sriracha and monitoring the removal of the sea home, underlined to reporters the implied threat to Thailand’s sovereignty it represented.

Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly involved

Following the media interest in the story and as the situation became clearer, it is also now known that Thailand through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has sought the cooperation of the US Embassy in relation to the matter. It is understood that there is some coordination between officials in Phuket including the police and officials at the ministry given the high profile and political nature of the controversy.

Reports that the American has been in contact with Thai authorities over the complaint against him in this highly unusual case

Thai officials in Phuket and indeed within the Royal Navy itself, have expressly denied comments made by the American in hiding that Thai security forces or authorities were seeking to harm or kill the couple. The American has been quoted in the last week expressing such fears. The US Embassy in Bangkok has confirmed that Chad Elwartowski, a resident of Detroit Michigan and who is also reported to be a software expert who worked with the American military in Afghanistan, is receiving legal advice and full consular support from the mission. The whereabouts of the American and his 29 year old Thai partner is still not known. In a statement last week, the American would only reveal that it was somewhere quite safe. It was also reported, in the last week, in quite an unusual move, that the American had been in communication with Thai authorities in relation to the complaints made against him.

Chad Elwartowski says that both himself and his partner were merely ‘volunteers’

It is clear that the the 46 year old American has been taken aback by the forceful reaction to his enterprise. He has explained that both himself and his Thai Wife were ‘volunteers’ and distanced both of them from the Ocean Builders firm which is listed as the promoter of the scheme on his now much publicized videos. The couple explained from hiding that they were just ‘excited about the prospect living free’ while a statement from Ocean Builders outlined the background to the sea standing movement internationally. This movement and network which now has its own US institute, reportedly was bankrolled by $1.7 million in funding from former PayPal boss and legendary founder, Peter Thiel. It is believed that the couple lived in the seastead from some time in mid February until mid April when Thai authorities took action. It sent a plane to conduct surveillance of activity at the maritime location on April 12th last. This was the start of naval action against the duo which culminated on Monday and Tuesday with the removal of the sea home.  It was found to be installed two nautical miles outside Thailand’s strict territorial waters but well within its contiguous and commercial waters which are fully recognized by international law. This position has now reportedly also been accepted by the Royal Thai Navy. The couple has also now strongly denied that they planned to set up an independent state outside Thailand’s jurisdiction.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister says that the seastead was breach of Section 119 of Thailand’s criminal code at address to policy body

Last week, the influential Thai Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, believed to be close to the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, told reporters at a press conference that the seasteading structure, now removed, had violated Section 119 of Thailand’s criminal code. He was speaking on Friday to the media and a briefing at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute, a public administration foundation in Thailand near government buildings in Bangkok.

Arrest warrants to be sought against the American Thai couple by authorities very soon

It is becoming clear that following the successful removal of the structure, authorities will begin to move legally against the American promoter and possibly against his Thai wife. It is been mooted that The authorities will apply to the courts seeking arrest warrants against the couple shortly. This week, Phuket’s Deputy Governor, who has been working closely with the navy and police, suggested that an application to the courts would be made as early as next week. The key question now is what will be the charges? There is also the question of what charges, if any, will be placed before the American’s Thai wife, 29 year old Supranee Thepdet also known as Nadia Summergirl. There are some indications that the complaint filed by Royal Navy officials on April 15th were directed solely against Chad Elwartowski as the promoter and organiser of the Ocean Builders project.

Thai government would welcome legal case over seastead removal from the Andaman sea

Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam has said that the Thai government relished the opportunity to take on any lawsuit brought against it by the company known as Ocean Builders purportedly behind the project. They are satisfied that their actions were not only justified but dutiful considering the threat posed both to national sovereignty and maritime safety. At this stage, Thai authorities reportedly believe Ocean Builders to be Chad Elwartowski and a Thai juristic entity or Thai company. The US citizen is now explicitly denying that both he and his wife are, in fact, the key movers. Mr Elwartowski now insists on describing himself and his wife as ‘volunteers’ who participated in a seasteading experiment.

The determination by Thai authorities to preserve the structure now brought to Phuket suggests that they are prepared for the eventuality either of a civil lawsuit or whatever prosecution is brought against the American in due course.

Thailand will not tolerate international seasteading on its seas, this is the message

‘The Thai government would be glad if a lawsuit is filed. We want a lawsuit to be filed so that we will have a chance to explain the truth,’ the Deputy Prime Minister said. It is also becoming clear that Thai authorities have formed a threatening view of the international seasteading movement which, if left unchecked, might see Thailand and its seas become a target for their activities. The Deputy PM told his audience on Friday that no government anywhere in the world had tolerated the concept and neither would Thailand. The senior government minister also emphasized the danger of the structure to Thailand’s legitimate maritime traffic and interests in the area. Prior to the removal of the structure on Monday, Thai naval and maritime officials issued a warning to vessels and operators in its vicinity to stay away.

Thai immigration police searching for the American Thai couple still believed to be in the Kingdom – ‘we are watching out closely for both of them’

In the meantime, the American has had his Thai immigration visa, issued to him last November, revoked. It is now thought by Thai police, that both Chad Elwartowski and his wife Nadia Summergirl are still in the kingdom at this stage. Major Tossapon Kitilap of Thailand’s Immigration Police in Phuket addressed another press conference this week. ‘We still have not found them. We are still looking for them, but we are watching out closely for both of them now,’ he said.

Phuket’s deputy governor  urges caution about due process over any legal prosecution

However, the Deputy Governor in Phuket, 54 year old Supoj Rotreuang Na Nongkhai, is being more circumspect and has urged caution. His message may not however assuage any of the fears that the American may harbour about the eventual outcome or his fate. The Deputy Governor told the media that, at this point, as the matter becomes a legal one, people must appreciate the importance of due process. He said he was aware that the police at Wichit police station in Phuket, where the complaint from the navy was filed by Thai naval officials between April 12th and 15th, were investigating the matter. ‘Wichit Police is investigating the case and reviewing the evidence carefully because the penalty for the charge under the complaint filed is so serious,’ he said.

Investigating Thai police officer in Phuket suggests Section 119 charge not warranted but it will be for the public prosecutor to decide

There may be some hope for the American and his Thai partner. The Thai police investigator at Wichit police station and the Deputy Chief of Police in Wichit, has said that he does not think, at this point, that a charge under Section 119 of the Thai criminal code may be warranted in this case. He did confirm, however, that this was indeed the charge laid before the couple by officials for the Royal Thai Navy in mid April. Speaking to the Phuket News in Phuket, the police officer had this to say: ‘This is my case to investigate, and I have received a complaint asking police to press charges under Section 119 of the Criminal Code.’ He went on to explain his thinking that if the seasteading escapade did not represent a real threat to national security, he would not be pressing for such a charge to be pursued against the couple. He did however suggest that a lesser charge would be forthcoming but one that did not provide for the death penalty. The police man pointed out, however, that he was required, by procedure, to attach the original Section 119 complaint to his submission to the public prosecutor who would be the ultimate arbiter of what to put before a Thai court when moves are taken.

Royal Thai Navy official on seastead couple: ‘We just want them brought to justice’

The Thai Navy has taken a strong stance on the issue since it came to light. Naval officials have consistently suggested that the erection of the sea stead and in particular, the accompanying calls by Chad Elwartowski for other people to join a community off Thailand’s coast, represented a diminution and threat to Thailand’s sovereignty which is, in fact, what the law specifies. Rear Admiral Kritsana Kultiya is the Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Navy, Third Area Command. He criticised the comments of the American to the media this week claiming that the American Thai couple were being ‘hunted to death’ by Thai security forces or authorities. ‘We just want them brought to justice, and we have handed the search for the couple over to the Royal Thai Police and the Immigration Bureau as that is their job to do. We are the Navy, our areas of concern are out on the water,’ he said. ‘We are not hunting them ‘to end their lives’. That is not true,’ the senior naval officer said. ‘We have already filed a complaint of their crime under Section 119 to Wichit Police Station. I repeat that we have power to take action on the water, but it is the police and immigration police’s job to find, arrest them, not us.’

Thai navy vigorously defends its role in the Andaman sea controversy as the duty of the force

The naval authorities of the third area command have issued a lengthy and detailed statement on the controversy that has erupted over the Ocean Builders seastead and their duty to protect Thailand’s territorial waters and maritime sovereignty. The navy defended its action in detecting the threat and removing it as well as filing a criminal complaint with the police in Phuket. The statement suggests that the activities of Chad Elwartowski and his Thai partner, Supranee Thepdet, in promoting a seasteading community could have had ‘enormous effects on the stability of Thailand.’ It added that the seastead could have affected ‘the economy, society and the interests of the nation’ if left unchecked. The statement said that the Thai navy was working and coordinating with other state agencies to resolve the problem.

Thai boatyard in Phuket who built the sea stead not charged and assisted authorities to remove the structure on Monday and Tuesday

Thai officials and authorities also inspected the Thai boat yard where the sea stead structure was built and which installed the structure off the coast, also this week. The company, Phuket Premier Boatyard Co Ltd is located in Mai Khao, Phuket. The boatyard is located 42 km south of Phuket. Authorities have confirmed that no charges are being brought against the company. It is reported that they did however order the company to cease operations for a time while they inspected its licences to operate the concern including its ability function as a factory under the 1992 Act. It is also reported that employees working with the Phuket Premier Boatyard Co Ltd, assisted the Thai navy on Monday with the removal of the structure, safely and successfully, to safe harbor in Phuket.

Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s Defence Minister, takes legal advice on ‘international standards of practice’ defending Thailand’s maritime interests

It is reported that Thailand’s Defence supremo and Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, is looking at the legal situation. He ordered the Royal Thai Navy and security instruments of the Thai state to act against the proposed seasteading community in the Andaman sea.

Significantly, he refers to the need to protect Thailand’s natural resources in line with ‘international standards of practice’ with this report confirmed by Deputy Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Kongcheep. The spokesman said the minister was taking legal advice on whether the sea trading community was in breach of laws concerning natural resource protection.

Navy completes removal of seastead from the sea to Phuket in smooth and successful operation

On Monday and Tuesday morning, up to 300 Thai navy personnel  and civilian assistants were involved with and completed the removal of the ill fated seastead. It is reported that the Navy first of all, separated the octagonal top of the structure or the living pod, from the supporting structure underneath and towed that to an awaiting naval vessel for transport separately to Phuket. The underwater supporting section was towed along later to port near Phuket.

Three Royal Thai naval vessels involved

The operation, about 14 nautical miles from Phuket, involved three Royal Thai Navy vessels including the HTMS Sriracha, a large naval patrol ship that served as the command and control centre and a boat for landing personnel named as the HTMS Mun Nai as well as a tugboat, the HTMS Rin.  

Rear Admiral overseas the removal of the sea stead and again reiterates the threat to Thai sovereignty

Rear Admiral Withanarat Kochaseni oversaw the successful operation from HTMS Sriracha. He is the Deputy Commander of the 3rd Naval area command. He used the occasion to again insist that the action of the American, Chad Elwartowski  and his Thai wife, Supranee Thepdet, represented a breach of Thailand’s maritime sovereignty. ‘The couple announced on social media they were independent of the judiciary or law of any state, including Thailand, and invited other people also interested in building similar residences to what would apparently become an independent community,’ he said. The Thai Navy’s key concern at that point was to both remove the structure and make sure it was preserved as evidence for any eventual legal proceedings.

American has visa revoked and declared a threat to national security as love couple flee Thai police

American and Thai wife seeking to create new community and ‘governance’ in the sea off Phuket