Phuket Cops Hunting Down Thai, American ‘Seasteaders’

Chad Elwartowski and Supranee “Nadia” Thepdet celebrate the completion of their “seastead” close to Phuket in February 2019. Image: Oceanbuilders

PHUKET — Police said Thursday that they’re seeking to arrest the two tenants of a seabourne home accused of “posing a threat” to Thai maritime sovereignty.

Michigan-born Chad Elwartowski and his Thai partner Supranee “Nadia” Thepdet were charged with a criminal offense earlier this week in relation to their residence, called a “seastead”, which floats in international waters close to Phuket island. Police said a search of the seastead turned up empty.

“We have not found the pair,” local police chief Nikorn Somsuk told reporters. “The latest inspection of the floating home found only dried food.”

The two sides collided after Thai officials discovered an online video in which Elwartowski and Supranee speak about their experiences living at sea close to the Thai mainland.

Image: Oceanbuilders

Elwartowski and Supranee appear to be members of Seasteading, a group promoting autonomous, self-sufficient homes away from land. They have been charged with infringing on Thai sovereignty under Section 119 of the Penal Code, which carries a death penalty.

It’s the first known case of a confrontation between the Thai authorities and the sea-settlers movement. Writing on Facebook earlier this week, Elwartowski said the pair was safe, but expressed concerns over the legal backlash.

“Whether [the seastead] is still there or not does not matter much to me. I’m more concerned about Nadia being driven from her home country and her family,” he wrote April 16. “But as long as Nadia and I are able to live through this that is all that matters to us right now.”

“We just want to live,” he added.

During media interviews, the pair maintained that their seastead – located 24 nautical miles from Phuket – is not subject to Thai laws. But the Thai navy said the structure interferes with one of the country’s shipping lanes, and therefore must be destroyed.

While Elwartowski and Supranee have eluded capture so far, police have piled legal actions on others involved in the seastead.

Phuket immigration chief Kathathorn Kamthieng said the builder was a foreign national living in Thailand on a non-immigrant “B” visa. Police have moved to revoke the visa because the person – whose identity remains undisclosed – engaged in activities “harmful to society and public safety,” in the words of Col. Kathathorn.

Phuket police also told reporters they inspected a factory where the seastead was built and discovered the owners lacked proper permits.

“The factory does not have a license to operate as a shipyard,” industry official Wacharin Chaiyanupong said. “We will investigate thoroughly before taking further legal actions.”