UTRECHT, Netherlands – A Dutch court ordered authorities to take temporary guardianship of 13-year-old girl on Friday, delaying her plan to sail solo around the world until psychologists can assess her capacity to undertake the risky voyage.
Judges said Laura Dekker would face both mental and physical risks if she were allowed to go ahead with the two-year trip in her 26-foot boat named Guppy.
The court said she could continue living with her father, but would become the responsibility of Dutch child care officials for two months while an independent child psychologist evaluated her case.
The court battle in this traditional seafaring nation attracted has attention around the world, raising questions about parental responsibility when children want to set off on perilous adventures.
Laura was out sailing Friday and did not attend the District Court hearing. Her father, Dick Dekker, was in court to hear the decision from the three judges. He made no immediate comment.
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."
The court did not remove Laura from her father's home nor did it rule out the possibility of her eventually going on the round-the-world trip. For those reasons, the family's lawyer, Peter de Lange, felt it was an acceptable ruling.
"(It supports the idea that) you are not a bad parent if you try to help your child fulfill her dream," he noted.
The court will issue a second ruling Oct. 26 on whether to extend the council's responsibility for the teenager. By that time she will have turned 14.
De Lange said Laura's friends told her about the court's decision and "she accepted it very positively."
Dekker, an experienced sailor who raised his daughter on a yacht for the first four years of her life, had supported Laura's plan to begin a round-the-world voyage next month.
But Dutch social workers had argued that Laura was too young to weigh the dangers of the trip, and psychologists said such long-term isolation would be damaging at an important time in a young teenager's development.
Presiding Judge M. Oostendorp said the voyage was clearly risky for a girl Laura's age. "She would be confronted with difficult situations that will challenge her mentally and physically," she said.
De Lange, however, rejected arguments that Laura's education would suffer. "Where do you learn more, on a 2-year trip or at high school?" he asked.
He said the trip was still on track despite the delay, although Laura may now have to take her boat to Portugal to avoid autumn storms in the Bay of Biscay.
Laura Dekker was born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world. She holds New Zealand citizenship as well as Dutch nationality from her father and German nationality from her mother. Her parents are divorced, but her mother reportedly also gave her consent to the voyage.
Even social workers fighting to stop the trip have acknowledged she is an accomplished sailor.
Earlier this year she sailed alone to England, where authorities briefly detained her and told her father to help her sail home, de Lange said. Her father went to England, but she eventually sailed home alone.
De Lange has said Laura would consider moving to New Zealand if Dutch child protection workers keep blocking her record attempt. New Zealand authorities say they also could block her trip if they were convinced she would be endangering herself or potential rescuers.
Friday's ruling came a day after 17-year-old British sailor Mike Perham became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Completing 28,000 miles in just nine months, Perham crossed the finish line off the coast of Cornwall, in southern England, on Thursday.
Perham is a few months younger than Zac Sunderland, from Thousand Oaks, California, who claimed the youngest solo crown in July when he completed a similar trip in 13 months.
Perham's boat, a 50-foot racing yacht called Totallymoney.com in honor of his sponsor, is much larger than Laura's. But he also had significant seafaring adventures at a tender age -- when Perham was 14, he became the youngest person to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean.