December 22, 2009 / 9:48 PM / in 8 years

Dutch sailor stays with family friends in legal row

UTRECHT, The Netherlands (Reuters) - The Dutch teenage sailor whose round-the-world voyage was thwarted by the courts and who later went missing in the Caribbean flew home on Tuesday to a battle over who should care for her.

Child welfare authorities asked a Dutch court to remove Laura Dekker, 14, from her father’s care after she returned to the Netherlands from the Caribbean island of St. Martin, where she had fled from Paris.

Dekker flew to the island in the Dutch Antilles after Dutch welfare authorities had thwarted her attempt to become the youngest person to sail single-handed round the world.

“There was a crisis -- a bed in an old hotel from the Bureau of Youth Care, or the alternative was a place at a good family well known to the family,” lawyer Peter de Lange told journalists. “Laura ... is now going to sleep there.”

Dekker’s plans to sail into the record books drew the attention of the international media and the seafaring Dutch, but a court blocked her departure and placed her under state supervision, saying the trip posed risks to her safety.

Born on her parents’ boat in New Zealand, Dekker spent the first four years of her life at sea and had intended to start a two-year solo voyage round the world on her 8.3 meter (27 ft) yacht Guppy on September 1 when she was still 13.

Dekker’s parents separated when she was six and she lives with her father, Dick Dekker, who backed her sailing trip.

After Dekker arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Tuesday with a guitar and bag, police questioned her about the circumstances of her trip before handing her over to youth care officers. She is not suspected of committing a crime.

The Utrecht court in the center of the country was initially planning to rule on Tuesday whether Dekker should stay with her father or be placed into foster care or with her mother.

But De Lange said the three judges who were to rule on her future carers had also ruled against her sailing trip, prompting him to challenge their independence and delay the case.

The court rejected his challenges and will on Wednesday hear the case on where Dekker should live in the immediate future.

De Lange said Dekker ran away from home because she was depressed and suffering at school because of the huge pressure of her situation and the media exposure.

She fled to St. Martin where she quickly made contacts within the sailing community, though it was not clear whether she still hoped to attempt her dream solo voyage.

Editing by Michael Roddy

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