Beloved by Silicon Valley tycoons and tyranny-fearing libertarians, are cities atop the waves Earth’s next frontier?
A white steel pole rises out of the sea off the Caribbean coast of Panama, poking above the waves like the funnel of a sunken steamship. Launched into the water last month, this is no shipwreck, but the base of what will soon become a floating home and, in the eyes of its makers, the first step towards building a brave new post-Covid-19 society, out on the open ocean.
“Coronavirus is an opportunity to show the world that what we’re building is actually going to be very useful in the future,” says Chad Elwartowski, in a recent video post from his beachside base in Panama. The Michigan-born software engineer turned bitcoin trader is a leading figure in the seasteading movement, a libertarian group dedicated to building independent floating cities on the high seas. Along with the bunker builders and survivalist preppers, their long-held ambitions have been bolstered by the current global pandemic. “No matter if you’re scared of the virus or the reaction to the virus,” he adds, “living out on the ocean will be helpful for these situations.”
It is not the first time Elwartowski has attempted to realise his dream of a floating future. In April last year, he and his Thai partner Supranee Thepdet (aka Nadia Summergirl), were forced to flee their first floating home off the coast of Thailand, just moments before it was raided by the Thai navy. They had constructed what they declared to be “the first seastead” 12 nautical miles from Phuket, but the authorities decided that the six metre-wide fibreglass cabin, perched on top of a floating pole, posed a threat to Thailand’s sovereignty. It was an offence punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty. “The couple announced on social media declaring their autonomy beyond the jurisdiction of any courts or law of any countries, including Thailand,” said Rear Admiral Vithanarat Kochaseni, adding that they had invited others to join them. “We see such action as deteriorating Thailand’s independence.”