Chad Elwartoski and Nadia Summergirl are friends of mine, and I am deeply concerned about their well-being.
I wrote this blog in response to the numerous inquiries I am getting from friends and acquaintances about Chad and Nadia’s current situation. If you don’t know what this is about, start here with Brian Doherty’s Reason article “Thai Government Takes Over Seastead Near the Thai Coast” and today’s article from Reuters “Thai Navy Boards Cabin Of Fugitive ‘Seasteaders’ Facing Death Penalty.”
This blog is written with regard to the information I have from the numerous international news stories I have read, comments I have seen in social media, and from what I can ascertain from the translated version of the Royal Thai Navy’s statements on Facebook.
I am not in contact with Chad or Nadia. I do not know where they are. I do not have a full understanding of the Thai government’s actions or intentions.
What I do know:
I had dinner with Chad, Nadia and a principal of Ocean Builders in Phuket in February and heard first hand about their plans with the “first seastead”, Ocean Builders’ plans to build and sell more seasteads, and to create a community in international waters off the coast of Thailand.
In no way did Chad, Nadia, or Ocean Builders have any intentions of violating the laws of Thailand, nor disrupting or interfering with Thailand’s sovereignty.
The Seastead was located outside of Thailand’s territorial waters. It is (was?) 14 miles from the nearest land mass. Territorial seas extend 12 miles from a nation’s shoreline.
The seastead was within Thailand’s Contiguous Zone, where Thailand has the legal right to protect itself from certain acts — but Ocean Builders did not intentionally violate those laws.
The seastead was temporarily anchored and could be towed to other locations, thus it did not fall under the definition of an artificial island within the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Ocean Builders was not extracting resources from the Thai EEZ, which would be a violation of law.
The intentions of these “first seasteaders” were to pioneer a seasteading community in international waters. A community that would prove that people could live nearly full time on seasteads. They planned to grow their own food. They planned to demonstrate that they could live there and not harm the ecosystem.
They wanted to offer other like-minded people the freedom that seasteaders believe exist in international waters. However, they planned to be fully compliant with all Thai laws and regulations, as travel through Thailand would be fundamental to their existence.
They were very fond of Thailand and the Thai people (Nadia is Thai). They believed that as the seastead community grew they would become an additional tourist attraction for Thailand, that they would be a net benefit to the Thai economy, and that they would attract investors who would have ancillary economic activities in Thailand.
They built the seastead in a Thai shipping yard, paying all the normal taxes that all Thai companies are subject to.
Chad and Nadia are clearly eccentric people, but they are no threat to Thailand. In fact, they have deeply held convictions against using force to harm others. They are liberty yearning pacifists.
It appears that the Thai Navy reacted in haste to a nonexistent, yet perceived threat. The Thai Navy has a duty to protect Thailand, and it can be understood that stories of foreigners setting up a “micronation” in the Thai seas would be an act that the Thai Navy would want to protect Thailand from.
However, I do not believe — and I don’t think that Chad and Nadia believed — that a bonafide micronation would have evolved from the small community that would have set anchor outside the Thai territorial waters. It would have merely been a small ocean based seasteading demonstration community.
While seasteaders do dream of large floating cities in international waters, the evolution of this will take decades. If and when a seastead community is large enough to warrant its own legal definition as a state, it will be because it cooperates with existing nations. Until then, seasteading will be pushed forward through many trials and errors.
Ocean Builders is trying to bring seasteading into the world through a one-single-family-seastead-in-international-waters-at-a-time model. They are not trying to violate the laws of the nation that they are building their seasteads in.
I have known Chad for about seven years. He is the perfect person to pioneer a single family seastead. He has dreamed of living on the open sea for longer than I have known him. The threat of life in prison or the death penalty for what they have done is horrific and I am very sad for them.
What I hope will happen:
I hope that this matter will be resolved quickly without any harm or punishment imposed on Chad, Nadia, or Ocean Builders.
I hope the Thai government will conclude that a small community of single family homes off of their coast would not be a threat to their sovereignty.
I hope that Thailand will do the right thing and work with Chad and Nadia so that they can have a peaceful home in international waters, while traveling freely in and out of Thailand.
For more information see this statement from Ocean Builders.