Seastead to be dismantled

Structure to be used as evidences in case against bitcoin couple

MOVING HOME: Officials prepare to dismantle a floating structure, which was occupied by an American man and his Thai partner, in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket.

Authorities led by the Royal Thai Navy are expected to today resume an operation to dismantle and tow to shore the seastead of an American bitcoin investor and his Thai girlfriend in the Andaman Sea.

A task force was sent out yesterday to inspect, dismantle and tow the platform to the shore at Chatchai pier in Phuket’s Thalang district, but the plan was put on hold as it was studying how to move the structure without damaging it.

The structure, which lies about 14 nautical miles (26km) off the coast of Phuket and in the country’s contiguous zone, is a key piece of evidence in a criminal case as police are gathering evidence to take legal action against the couple for allegedly breaching Section 119 of the Criminal Code. Chad Elwartowski, 46, an American bitcoin investor, and Thai national Supranee “Nadia” Thepdet, may face another charge of fraud for allegedly persuading others to buy the structures developed by Ocean Builders.

Under the plan, the octagonal platform will be removed from an attached underwater structure before both are towed to the shore. The removal operation will require guidance from specialists to avoid damage. It was also found that the “sea home” is not stable and may collapse.

Authorities are contacting the builder to take part in the removal work. According to the navy, there is evidence the structure was built on land in tambon Mai Khao of Thalang district of Phuket and moved out to the sea southeast of Koh Racha Yai.

Authorities are acting in line with the Protection of Maritime Interests Act after the Office of Attorney-General (OAG) said it can proceed under the law which authorises the Thailand Maritime Enforcement Coordinating Centre (TMECC) to mitigate threats or activities that undermine maritime interests.

Vice Adm Sitthiporn Maskasem, chief of the 3rd Naval Area Command, said yesterday the owners can inspect the platform before it is dismantled and brought to shore. So far, authorities have not been able to establish contact with the owners or tenants.

Navy commander Ruechai Ruddit said yesterday the TMECC will remove the seastead as it is the legal enforcement agency responsible for the task under the law.

The navy chief also dismissed a claim that the structure is beyond Thai sovereignty, saying the evidence proves that Thailand as a coastal state has the right to take legal action.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam welcomed a threat by Ocean Builders to bring the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for further clarification, saying it would help clear up legal issues surrounding the practice.

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