published : 6 Jul 2019 at 06:00
Charges will be pressed against an additional nine suspects, among them seven Thais, one German and one person of an unknown nationality, for their alleged involvement in the illegal construction of a “seastead” in Thai territorial waters in the Andaman Sea.
People found guilty of owning seasteads, or permanent settlements on structures located in an area of the sea just outside the jurisdiction of this country, will be “subject to the death sentence” under Section 129 of the Criminal Code, said Wanchat Chunhathanom, the state prosecutor in Phuket.
Seasteading made headlines earlier this year when an American, Andrew Elwartowsky and his Thai wife, Suranee “Nadia” Thepdet, were found to be operating one such housing platform.
The seastead was seen as a threat to Thai sovereignty under Section 119 of the same law, and was illegal under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They claimed that their six-metre-wide platform, located about 14 nautical miles (26 kilometres) off the Phuket coastline, was not in Thai territory.
Vice Admiral Krisi Keson, deputy secretary-general of the Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre, reportedly insisted that the area is under Thailand’s sovereignty. Mr Wanchat did not name all nine suspects in the case, but did identify a German man, Coch Ruger, the owner of Ocean Builders, the company that helped the pair install the seastead.
Immigration police are revoking his visa and gathering more evidence against him, said Mr Wanchat. Officers currently believe that the group of American, German and Thai suspects conspired to establish an “independent state” in Phuket, he said.
According to investigators, Mr Elwartowsky and his wife, Ms Suranee, were also accused of persuading people to build seasteads off the Phuket coast. The pair was earlier summoned to report to police on June 25, but did not show up.
“We’ll summon them again on July 15, or they will face arrest warrants,” said Pol Col Nikon Somsuk, chief of the Phuket-based Wichit police station. Authorities earlier said that the couple may have fled to Tarutao island in the south of Thailand.