December 23, 2009 / 3:50 PM / 9 years ago

Dutch teenage sailor stays with father, voyage planned

UTRECHT, The Netherlands (Reuters) - A Dutch court allowed teenage sailor Laura Dekker to stay in her father’s care on Wednesday following her disappearance last week, raising hope she could start on her longed-for round-the-world voyage.

Dick Dekker, father of Dutch teenage sailor Laura Dekker whose round-the-world voyage was blocked by the courts, smiles while giving his statement to the media at the courtroom in Utrecht, the Netherlands December 23, 2009. Dekker fled last week to the Caribbean island of St. Martin to buy a boat and start her voyage, her lawyer said Wednesday. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

Dekker, 14, went missing last Thursday after welfare authorities blocked her attempt to become the youngest person to sail single-handed around the world. She was found on the island of St. Martin in the Dutch Antilles and flown home on Tuesday to face a legal storm over her future.

After her disappearance last week, the welfare authorities sought to have Dekker removed from her home and placed in a crisis shelter.

“I have just got a text message from her. She is very happy,” said Mariska Woertman, a family spokeswoman, adding that Dekker had jumped in the air with happiness.

Dekker, who was born on her parents’ boat in New Zealand, and is a dual Dutch-New Zealand national, had intended to start a two-year solo voyage round the world financed by sponsors on September 1. But a court blocked her departure and placed her under state supervision, saying the trip posed risks to her safety.

Dekker was required to practice more, attend school and wait until at least July 2010 before attempting her trip. The court said on Wednesday welfare authorities and Dekker’s father had hitherto been unable to co-operate on drawing up a plan.

“Because these conditions were not worked on, Laura got caught in a downward spiral,” the presiding judge said.


Dekker — who had become depressed and started skipping school after her dream trip had been prevented by the courts — had fled last week to St. Martin to try and start her voyage, her lawyer Peter de Lange said.

“She went there to buy a boat,” De Lange told reporters, adding Dekker told the court on Wednesday about her intentions. “Boats are a lot cheaper there.”

Although it sought crisis shelter, the Bureau of Youth Care eventually decided against placing Dekker with her mother, Babs Muller, who had left the court in tears prior to the ruling, muttering she should get a lawyer for herself as well one day.

Judges said on Wednesday that if cooperation breaks down again between the welfare authorities and the Dekkers, the Bureau of Youth Care could lodge an appeal.

Jan-Dirk Sprokkerreef, national chairman of the Bureau of Youth Care, welcomed the ruling.

“We want children to be with their parents. But only when it is not possible we ask for another ruling,” Sprokkerreef said.

“When we found it possible to cooperate with her father and Laura to achieve this (sailing) goal, then this is the best solution,” Sprokkerreef said.

Her father Dick Dekker said he would be sad to see his daughter leave on her journey, but added she had wanted this for so long and would keep practicing as part of the court’s conditions. He was also pleased she could stay at home for now.

“I have a (Christmas) present ready. I won’t say now. The happy part is that things are more clear now and she can work on it ... I think this is the biggest present of all,” he said.

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