Dutch court blocks girl's solo sail bid
Laura Dekker’s dream is dashed as the court places her under child protection services and strips her parents of all parental rights.
Utrecht -- A Dutch court ruled Friday that a 13-year-old girl cannot set sail on a solo round-the-world voyage next month and ordered her to be placed in the temporary care of social services.
In a judgement that was welcomed by young Laura Decker's lawyer, the court judges did not rule out the possibility of her eventually embarking on the record-breaking quest but said a full study was needed to assess the dangers.
"The parents are going to have to negotiate all important decisions regarding Laura with the child protection services," said a statement from the court in the central city of Utrecht. Dekker has been placed under the guardianship of the Utrecht Youth Care Bureau for a period of two months.
"This means that Laura cannot start her round-the-world trip without their (child protection services') agreement," the statement added.
The children's court also ordered an inquiry into the psychological and physical impact that such a voyage -- expected to last two years -- was likely to have on the teenager. A report has to be delivered by 16 October.
Dutch child protection agents had referred the case to the children's court asking it to suspend the parental authority of Laura's mother and father, who were backing her bid to become the youngest ever person to sail around the world solo.
The girl had planned to set out on her 8.3-metre-long Hurley 800 named Guppy in September, financed by sponsors, while pursuing her education by Internet correspondence.
Her father, Dick Dekker, had applied in July for an exemption for Laura from obligatory schooling. The request was refused and child protection authorities alerted.
In a recent written report to parliament, education deputy minister Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart said "a solo voyage around the world would not be in the best interests of the child".
The children's court sat on Monday behind closed doors to consider the matter, with Laura and her father present.
After the verdict was handed down, Laura's advocate Peter de Lange hailed the court's "wisdom".
"The court wants to know how well she is prepared, about the safety (on the yacht), what means of communication will be available to her," he told a press conference after the ruling.
"It is a very good decision."
De Lange said the teenager was a born sailor and "knows exactly what she wants".
"She was born on a boat; she has salt in her blood," he added.
Laura was born on a yacht off the New Zealand coast during a seven-year world trip by her parents and lives with her father on a yacht in central Netherlands, according to Dutch press.
She was not present for Friday's judgment. Earlier, Dutch media reports Dekker has asked to be removed from the register of her hometown and has said she would move to New Zealand if the Dutch court fails to rule in her favour.
"Laura is on her yacht at sea to escape the media," her lawyer explained.
Newspapers report that Laura got her first yacht at the age of six and spent the summer of her eleventh year sailing for even weeks on her own.
"Since I was 10 years old, I've known that I would like to sail around the world," she has told Dutch television. "I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely."
Her father Dick has previously told a local newspaper that he was aware that the voyage was "a dangerous undertaking" but one within her capabilities.
"We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control," he said.
A 17-year-old British boy, Mike Perham, on Thursday became the youngest person to sail solo around the world with assistance, as he entered British waters after 156 days at sea.
AFP / Expatica