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Dutch court blocks girl's solo global sailing bid

A Dutch court ruled on 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.

world Updated: Aug 29, 2009 09:28 IST

A Dutch court ruled on 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.

The court judges did not rule out the possibility of Laura Dekker 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.

This means that Laura cannot start her round-the-world trip without their (child protection services') agreement," the statement added.

The court placed the teenager under state care for two months, meaning her parents are stripped of the right to make decisions about her in that period.

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. Judges will look at the case again on October 26 after the report has been submitted.

The inquiry would provide "a better understanding of how the voyage has been prepared and what steps have been taken to ensure security", the court said.

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.

"In any case, I wouldn't have gone if I wasn't capable or if my boat wasn't good. The only difference is that it's going to be a bit longer before I depart," Laura told the Dutch state broadcaster's "Children's News," her only interview after the ruling.

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 and keeping in touch with her family via satellite phone. 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.

Newspapers report that Laura got her first yacht at the age of six and spent the summer of her eleventh year sailing for seven 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.