Thai Navy to remove bitcoin-rich couple's sea home

Chad Elwartowski and his girlfriend are facing charges of threatening the kingdom's independence after authorities found their ocean-based home (AFP Photo/Handout)

The Thai Navy will begin removing a "seastead" home built by an American bitcoin investor and his partner off the coast of Thailand, an official said Saturday, as the couple remain in hiding from charges accusing them of violating the country's sovereignty.

Chad Elwartowski and his Thai girlfriend Supranee Thepdet, known as "Bitcoin Girl Thailand", are facing charges of threatening the kingdom's independence after authorities found their ocean-based home about 12 nautical miles from Phuket's shore.

But Elwartowski said the home was 13 nautical miles out and therefore past Thailand's territorial waters.

The Thai Navy, which filed a complaint last week to Phuket's police, said the couple did not seek permission to construct their floating platform and a patrol ship was sent out on Saturday to dismantle it.

"We will do it today if we can," a senior Navy official told AFP, adding that it might prove difficult given the depth of the waters where the home is located.

After the seastead is removed, it would be used as evidence against the couple, said a Royal Thai Navy statement, which denied sending "any forces to chase or threaten the couple".

The American's visa has been revoked and if charged and found guilty, the maximum punishment Elwartowski, a software engineer who worked for the US military, and Supranee could be sentenced to is the death penalty.

The bitcoin-rich couple -- who are still in hiding -- are part of Ocean Builders, a community of entrepreneurs who aim to build permanent homes in waters outside of government territory.

Elwartowski blogged regularly on Ocean Builders about erecting their ocean-dwelling home, a six-meter wide octagonal-shaped platform which included a kitchen, bathroom, eating area and bedroom.

The top of the platform served as a deck, which was covered with solar panels, and the whole thing was mounted on a 2-metre-long floating steel "spar" which is anchored to the ocean's floor.

They had recently called for 20 interested investors for new seasteads -- costing about $150,000 each -- to be built around their maiden platform, and the money would have initially been raised by bitcoin, Elwartowski told AFP,

So far, five orders have been "lined up", he said.

They were an underwater restaurant, three "SeaBnBs" for vacationers, and a tuna-farming venture -- the latter which they had planned to get permission from the Thai government, he said.

Elwartowski has also said Ocean Builders was "apolitical in the goal" and the couple simply wanted to be free.

The seasteading community consists of "tens of thousands" of supporters worldwide, said Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute -- a think tank co-founded in 2008 by famed tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel advocating for the "Next New World".

The institute believes seasteading is a solution to modern governments that don't function efficiently under "obsolete political systems", and oceans could be "humanity's next frontier".

"Seasteaders and bitcoin enthusiasts have always been fans of each other, because both communities understand that these innovations will...solve some of the deepest problems humanity faces," Quirk told AFP.

The US Embassy is "providing all appropriate assistance" to Elwartowski, who has engaged an attorney, an embassy official said.