Bitcoin couple Nadia Thepdet and Chad Elwartowski face the death penalty for sea-reading off Thailand
Nadia Thepdet takes beautiful photos of the sea. A recent picture on her Instagram shows the sunset over the waves. In another, she is standing on a boat off the coast of Thailand, holding a golden coin with the Bitcoin logo in her hand.
But Thepdet’s love for Bitcoin and the ocean could cost her life.
She and her friend Chad Elwartowski are cryptocurrency evangelists who tried to live the libertarian idea of sea-reading. The concept, loved by technicians like Peter Thiel, suggests a series of floating islands in international waters. The idea is to escape countries and laws.
Now comes the law for Thepdet and Elwartowski. The couple moved into the first offshore home owned by sea-reading firm Ocean Builders earlier this year. Their new home was on an oil rig-like structure 12 miles off the coast of Thailand, technically in international waters – but Thailand says they weren’t far enough offshore. Thai authorities accuse the couple of violating a law prohibiting acts that endanger Thai sovereignty, according to the Bangkok Post.
Violation of the law is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Now Thepdet and Elwartowski say that they are on the run.
“That’s ridiculous,” Elwartowski wrote in a Facebook post on Monday. “We lived on a floating houseboat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us to be killed.”
At its core, sea-reading is like living on a glorified houseboat. The idea has a strong following of some fringe libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who believe in starting a new society with little to no government.
One of the earliest and most notorious of sea-reading failures was Operation Atlantis, a 1968 attempt to establish a libertarian civilization aboard a boat in international waters. The plan sank with the boat that caught fire as it left New York and burst in a hurricane near the Bahamas. (The plan’s founder later attempted to build paradise on an offshore oil rig, which was also swept away by a hurricane.)
More modern visions of sea-reading have envisioned entire cities built on boats or oil rigs. Ocean Builders, operated by early Bitcoin adopters, plans to build the first sea-leading houses. If everything goes according to plan, these homes could become the beginning of a town at sea.
Some of Seasteading’s biggest supporters come from the cryptocurrency community, where Thepdet was a minor celebrity and was known as “Bitcoin Girl Thailand”. The couple claimed to have made their fortune from the undetectable digital currency popular with libertarians.
In a Facebook post last year, Thepdet introduced itself to luxury homes floating on the ocean. The reality was less glamorous.
In February, Ocean Builders announced that it had built “the world’s first sea-head in international waters 12 nautical miles off Phuket, Thailand”. Thepdet and Elwartowski’s new home was very simple: a short, round room on stilts.
It was also very illegal, the Thai authorities claim. “If left untouched, it will hinder shipping as the route is used to transport oil to Phuket,” a government source told the Bangkok Post. The government claims the structure was located in Thai marine waters.
A seasteader said the couple’s plan to live 12 nautical miles offshore was fraught with legal setbacks.
“12 nm [nautical miles] is not ‘high seas’ ”, Patri Friedman, founder of the Seasteading Institute, wrote on Facebook. “It is the contiguous zone where a state has many rights, some of which are likely to apply here. Don’t listen to someone who tells you that the high seas start at 12 nm; it means they didn’t even spend 5 minutes reading Wikipedia. “
Friedman, who promoted anti-democratic libertarianism, is a leading proponent of seasteading and previously led a failed effort to create a libertarian city in Honduras.
“Even the actual ‘high seas’ (about 200+ nm away from land) is not a magical realm of freedom where you can just fly a flag and be an independent community,” he continued on Facebook.
With Thai authorities looking for them, the couple now reject allegations that they tried to undermine Thai sovereignty.
“Nadia and I did not design, build or pay for the Seastead,” Elwartowski wrote on Facebook. “We promoted it and lived from it. We helped by giving updates to the builder and we participated in the rollout. We haven’t decided where to put the seastead. We are enthusiastic supporters of the project who were lucky enough to be the first to hold on to it. “
The couple were back on the mainland when they started reading news about Thai officials raiding the Seastead, they told Motherboard.
In a subsequent Facebook post, Elwartowski said he and Thepdet were safe and were trying to find a way out of the country. Elwartowski is a US citizen, but Thepdet is Thai and could try to apply for asylum in the US, he said.
“Chasing us to the death is just stupid and underscores exactly the reason someone would be willing to go into the middle of the ocean to escape governments,” he said.
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