August 28, 2009 / 12:22 PM / 10 years ago

Dutch girl, 13, blocked from global solo sail

UTRECHT, Netherlands (Reuters) - A 13-year-old Dutch girl’s plans to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world were temporarily blocked on Friday when a court placed her under state supervision for two months.

Laura Dekker, who was born on her parents’ boat in New Zealand and spent her first four years at sea, had intended to begin a two-year voyage on September 1 on her 8.3 meter (27 ft) yacht Guppy.

“I’m not scared because I know that I can do it and my boat is good,” she said in an interview with state broadcaster NOS, when asked about the court ruling.

“...It’s basically stayed about the same, only it will take a little longer,” she added.

In a case that captured the attention of the sea-faring Dutch, child welfare authorities said it would be irresponsible to let her depart. A court in Utrecht agreed the trip posed risks to Dekker’s psychological development.

The court stopped short of removing custody from her parents, who support her planned trip, and she will stay with her father, who will share custody with the state.

The court ordered a psychologist and child protection authorities to examine how she would cope alone on the boat.

The ruling came a day after British 17-year-old Mike Perham became the youngest person to sail around the globe single-handed after nine months at sea.

Dekker’s lawyer, Peter de Lange, said he was confident her trip would go ahead.

“She is happy with the ruling, and now we can prepare this (journey) in a mature and responsible way,” De Lange said. Her father, an experienced sailor, was in court for the verdict, but did not speak to reporters.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told a weekly news conference the risks and Dekker’s schooling must be taken into account. “I can very well imagine that from various perspectives there are great concerns,” he said.


Dekker said in the interview she would tell investigating authorities how she grew up to give them an idea of her abilities. She stressed the longest time she would be alone at sea would be three weeks since she would often call into port.

She shrugged off concerns about her schooling because she plans to study via distance learning.

Caroline Vink, a senior adviser at the Youth Institute in the Netherlands which advises the Dutch government, said the biggest question was whether a 13-year-old could understand the consequences of her decision.

“Two years out of school will have an impact on her normal development,” she said. “It is wonderful to have dreams, but they have to be realistic.”

Presiding Judge M. Oostendorp said a hearing would be held on October 26 to examine the findings of the inquiry into the teenager’s ability to cope with the challenges of a trip.

A court spokeswoman said if the psychological assessment showed Dekker unable to cope, she could be placed under permanent supervision of welfare authorities.

Editing by Charles Dick

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