Dutch girl’s hopes of sailing solo around the world suffer legal setback

By Calvin Palmer

A 13-year-old Dutch girl’s hopes of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world were dashed today when a panel of judges ruled she placed into temporary care.

The three judges at Utrecht District Court described Laura Dekker’s proposed voyage as “undeniably daring and risky” and their ruling stops her from setting sail next week on her 26-foot yacht named Guppy.

Dekker has been placed under the guardianship of the state for two months during which time a court appointed a child psychologist will assess her capacity to cope with the risks she faces and the possible harm of two years of isolation.

The judges said it was “irresponsible for such a young girl to make a two-year solo trip around the world” and that they had “grave doubts that Miss Dekker would be able to handle extreme circumstances”.

The court will give its final ruling on October 26.

Laura was out sailing when the court delivered its decision.

The family’s lawyer, Peter de Lange, said Laura’s friends had told her about the court’s decision and “she accepted it very positively”.

“It’s an exceptional case,” he added. “The crucial question is whether it is wrong for parents to allow their child to indulge in her passion.”

Dekker had been placed in foster care by British police after she sailed single-handed from Holland to Britain in May.

Police in Lowestoft and social workers decided that the return journey was too dangerous and placed Miss Dekker in a home until her father came to collect her.

“In England I met a couple who run a children’s home. They were very kind and showed me many nice spots in England,” she later wrote on her website.

Dick Dekker, Laura’s father who at the age of 12 sailed from Ijmuiden harbour across the North Sea, collected her from the home and defied the authorities by letting her make the sea crossing alone.

The British police then contacted their Dutch counterparts who alerted the Utrecht social services, leading to today’s custody decision.

Her father has insisted that his teenage daughter, who was born at sea and had her first boat aged six, is an experienced sailor.

Prof. Micha de Winter, a child psychologist at Utrecht University, warned that Laura’s parents are underestimating the impact of two years alone at sea on a 13-year-old girl as she matures physically and emotionally.

He said the court had taken a “wise decision” in ordering a psychologist’s report.

“It’s a big risk and an experiment with a child in which you don’t know what the result could be,” he said.

Richard Bakker, spokesman for the Council for Child Protection, welcomed the ruling.

“We are satisfied with this decision,” he said, appealing to the father “to cooperate with the investigation and ensure Laura’s safety.”

[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph and Associated Press.]

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