A dream to live at sea has left an American Bitcoin investor and his Thai partner in hot water with officials in Thailand, and the two may face life in prison or death over violating the country’s sovereignty.
Thai authorities raided a floating home on Thursday in the Andaman Sea belonging to Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, known as Nadia, who sought to be pioneers in the "seasteading" movement which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation's laws.
The couple had gone into hiding earlier this week, with Elwartowski claiming Monday in a Facebook post that has since been deleted that "Thailand wants us killed."
"Hunting us down to our death is just plain stupid and highlights exactly the reason someone would be willing to go out in middle of the ocean to get away from governments," he wrote. "We never had any ill intentions and I even state plainly several times that I would not want to be a citizen of any seastead nation that would have me."
The couple had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand's territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore.
"We were hoping to bring tourism to Phuket with an underwater restaurant, floating hotels and medical research, tech jobs, etc. We had 3 wealthy entrepreneurs in the past week tell us they were coming to live in Phuket because they were excited about the project," Elwartowski wrote.
A promotional video from March showed the couple toasting champagne to the future on the open water, with Elwartowski saying the home built by Ocean Builders was the first of an additional 20 homes planned.
"We're looking forward to freedom-loving people to come join us out on the open ocean," he said.
Instagram photos and video posted by Nadia, also known as "bitcoingirlthailand," also showed life out at sea.
But Thailand's navy said the couple's outpost still endangered national sovereignty, charging them with article 119 of the Thai Criminal Code, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
Thai authorities revoked Elwartowski's visa on Wednesday and vowed to remove the home within a week. When they arrived at the home this week, the couple was gone.
In a statement released on Monday, Ocean Builders said the couple were "volunteers excited about the prospect of living free," and were "no way" involved in the design, construction, decision on where the home was located.
"Chad and Nadia are safe for now but understand that Thailand is currently being run by a military dictator. There will be no trial if they are caught," the group said. "They already demonstrated that by being judge jury and executioner of the historic very first seastead."
While Thailand's Navy hit the couple with the serious charges, police colonel Nikorn Somsuk told the South China Morning Post that he would have to ask the attorney general to proceed with the case since the outpost was technically in international waters.
“We have not met the couple yet. We have sent investigators to their home but they were not there," he told the paper. "We don’t know what their thoughts are apart from the fact that it seems a bit extreme to want to be so isolated.”
He also hinted that the couple may not face the most serious punishment, telling the South China Morning Post “as of now, there is no evidence that their actions pose a risk to Thai sovereignty”.
Elwartowski said in a separate Facebook post on Monday that the couple are "still safe," and that he was worried about Nadia "being driven from her home country and her family."
"My biggest worry when they said they demolished it was that all I have is on the seastead. It was my home. Being a minimalist I don't have much but what I car(e) most about in all that I own is my post cards," he wrote.
Elwartowski said he accumulated a "large stack" of cards from cities in 24 states across the U.S. and travel around the world.
"But as long as Nadia and I are able to live through this that is all that matters to us right now," he said. "We just want to live."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.