Margaret Thatcher and swine flu: Failed Bitcoin ship Satoshi has seen it all

MS Satoshi is truly the Forrest Gump of cruise ships, having survived swine flu before stomaching a crypto seasteading experiment off Panama.

Satoshi — once the floaty core of a crypto seasteading experiment off the coast of Panama — will soon return as a regular cruise ship.

The 30-year-old luxury liner was destined for maritime scrapyards after Bitcoin enthusiasts found it impossible to insure a buoyant but independent crypto nation.

Now, the UK’s first new cruise line in over a decade has bought Satoshi and plans to rebrand it Ambience.

This boat has seen some shit. Here’s a complete history.

Satoshi laid up in Bar, Montenegro in May 2021. Image courtesy of Kolma8 and shared under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Satoshi was once christened by Margaret Thatcher

Freshly built in 1991, the ship was bought by Princess Cruises. It quickly set sail for New York City, where the name Regal Princess was officially bestowed by former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Regal Princess spent many years cruising around North America under that moniker. As it got older, it galavanted around Australia, the Mediterranean, and the Baltics.

Satoshi previously went by Regal Princess, which came after Crown and Star Princesses.

After several failed deals, the cruise ship was sold to competitor P&O. Regal Princess then became Pacific Dawn in 2007.

Swine flu on ship in Sydney

In 2009, Pacific Dawn docked in Sydney Harbour. A day later, it was reported 14 passengers tested positive for swine-flu — the first known cases in Australia’s largest city.

The cruise ship ranked 14th for swine flu cases globally at the time, ahead of entire nations Hong Kong, Mainland China, New Zealand, and Brazil.

Pacific Dawn passengers were asked to self-quarantine. The ship eventually continued cruising.

Pacific Dawn image courtesy of Roderick Eime. Shared under CC BY 2.0

Pacific Dawn experienced mostly-smooth sailing for about a decade before another pandemic hit — this time COVID-19.

With cruise ships grounded, an opportunity arose for P&O to sell the vessel to Panama-based Ocean Builders for $9.5 million.

Pacific Dawn became Satoshi in the fall of 2020.

Satoshi meets its makers: Grant and Chad

Seasteading crew Ocean Builders claimed to be the first to build floating homes in the open sea. For a long time, its founders had tried to make independent maritime living a reality.

In the 1990s (long before Ocean Builders), the company’s chief exec Grant Romundt worked on the Freedom Ship project — a proposed mile-long cruise ship city, population 40,000, and with a runway on the roof.

It didn’t take off.

Imagine this beast chilling in the middle of the ocean. Cool, right? Now imagine it’s full of everyone who attended Bitcoin 2021 Miami.

[Read more: What happened to the Lifeboat Foundation’s Bitcoin Endowment Fund?]

With this extensive experience under his belt, Romundt joined forces with American Bitcoin trader and seasteading enthusiast Chad Elwartowski to found Ocean Builders in 2019.

Thailand once wanted to execute Satoshi co-owner

A year prior to purchasing Satoshi, Thailand threatened Elwartowski and his girlfriend Nadia with death for even attempting to build a tiny floating home off its shores.

“The couple announced on social media declaring their autonomy beyond the jurisdiction of any courts or law of any countries, including Thailand,” Rear Admiral Vithanarat Kochaseni told Reuters.

“We see such action as deteriorating Thailand’s independence,” he added.

Three military vessels and over 100 Navy officers — including Navy SEALs — forcibly removed the floating home from Thai waters.

Peter Thiel-backed The Seasteading Institute released a video in response to the removal of the offshore home.

Elwartowski’s visa was revoked. This made the couple fugitives in Thailand, but they eventually made their way to Panama.

While Thailand pursued charges, The Seasteading Institute (backed by billionaire Peter Thiel) showed its support.

Indeed, the story was so big among seasteaders that Institute president Joe Quirk publicly defended the couple and urged Thailand to show mercy.

But interestingly, once prominent member Elwartowski is now almost entirely absent from The Seasteading Institute’s website, despite having held the rank of First Seasteader.

Buy a cabin on Satoshi with crypto

Anyways, safe in Panama, Elwartowski served as Ocean Builders’ chief operating officer. Together with Romundt, the logistics of Satoshi were worked out… again.

The ship-bound crypto coterie was intended to be managed by Viva Vivas (short Viva Ut Vivas, Latin for “live so that you may live”), a company also run by Elwartowski.

Google classifies Viva Vivas as a “love hotel” and Viva Vivas website — still functioning by stroke of luck — gives wonderful insight into the duo’s priorities.

Instead of short-stay hotel rooms, Satoshi would boast apartments and offices. Essentially, passengers would be inhabitants living in a crypto-friendly community on open seas, beyond jurisdiction.

MS Satoshi is truly the Forrest Gump of cruise ships, having survived swine flu before stomaching a crypto seasteading experiment off Panama.
People do say a lot of things.

Viva Vivas FAQ page goes into great detail on cabin pricing, auctioning, and purchasing.

It also answers questions pertaining to:

  • Internet: you need to get your own hotspot.
  • Food: your apartment can’t have a kitchen or microwave due to fire codes.
  • Waste: an informative video of what happens when you flush the toilet on a cruise ship.
  • Privacy and security: yeah, we’ll have cameras but we’ll delete the footage after a few days.
  • Pets: allowed under 20 kg.
  • Government support: “we are currently enjoying fantastic support from the government. We are confident that will be maintained regardless of who wins the next election in a few years, although there are no guarantees.”

With everything thought through, Ocean Builders got down to business and started spinning the PR wheel.

While outlets picked up their press releases and interviews, Romundt and Elwartowski forgot one thing: insurance.

The end of Satoshi

As it turns out, it’s not easy to insure a floating steel island where crypto is king.

So in December, Ocean Builders had no choice but to sell Satoshi for scrap.

“The idea behind the Satoshi was to be a place in the world where we can experiment, build, and test innovative blockchain solutions in all areas of life and business,” wrote Romundt in an email farewell.

“Unfortunately, we will not be able to proceed because of archaic big insurance companies that cannot adapt to innovative new ideas.”

MS Satoshi is truly the Forrest Gump of cruise ships, having survived swine flu before stomaching a crypto seasteading experiment off Panama.
The last post on Viva Vivas’ website.

But whether by happenstance or curse, authorities seized the ship as it left Panama for a scrapyard in India.

Satoshi chilled there until March, when it was announced ownership was transferred to Wake Asset Management for $12 million — $2.5 million more than what Ocean Builders bought it for.

New beginnings

Satoshi then made its way to Bar, Montenegro. It’s still moored there.

Last month, the ship made glorious headlines once more when Britain’s Ambassador Cruise Line purchased Satoshi for an undisclosed sum. The firm claims to be the “first new UK cruise line in a decade.”

The now 30-year-old Satoshi was renamed Ambience, and is set to embark on its next passenger voyage in April 2020. Destination? Hamburg.

As for Ocean Builders, it’s totally still about seasteading but has since ditched the crypto cruise gimmick for a Jetsons-like concept called “Ocean Pods.”

MS Satoshi is truly the Forrest Gump of cruise ships, having survived swine flu before stomaching a crypto seasteading experiment off Panama.
For when you choose to live at sea but still want to face your neighbours for some reason.

[Read more: A critic’s guide to BitClout, this cycle’s most hated Bitcoin project]

Curiously, Elwartowski seems to be absent from Ocean Builders’ latest endeavour.

Still, he seems to have enjoyed the happiest ending of any character in this stormy saga. Protos is happy to note Elwartowski married his girlfriend Nadia, according to a recent interview.

Let’s hope the Satoshi finds similar bliss under Ambience.

MS Satoshi is truly the Forrest Gump of cruise ships, having survived swine flu before stomaching a crypto seasteading experiment off Panama.
With Ambience, Ambassador Cruise Lines plans to attract pensioners seeking sun abroad. But to target gen Z, might we suggest its second ship be named Vibe?

Update 16:19 UTC, June 17: Updated with email excerpt courtesy of Daniel Kuhn.

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