AMSTERDAM – A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that 14-year-old sailor Laura Dekker can remain in her father's custody after she ran away from home and traveled alone to the Caribbean.
The ruling by the Utrecht District Court clears the way once again for Dekker to pursue her goal of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world.
"At this moment there is no reason to remove her from her home," Presiding Judge M. Oostendorp said while reading the ruling of a three-judge panel.
Dekker's spokeswoman said the teenager had "jumped a hole in the sky" after hearing the news.
"That it took a trip to St. Maarten, so be it," Mariska Woertman said.
Dekker had originally planned to depart this year with the support of her father. But that plan was blocked by the court in October, which ordered her to prepare more and wait at least until 2010 before starting. It also ordered her to undergo scrutiny by social workers.
Frustrated by the regime she was subjected to, and with her grades slipping, she fled last week with about $5,000, prompting an international search.
She traveled to Paris and used a New Zealand passport to catch a flight to the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten. Dekker has dual nationality because she was born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world.
She was spotted on St. Maarten and returned to the Netherlands Tuesday. After her return, child welfare authorities had asked the court to place her with another family for three months, but that request was denied.
Judges said Laura's father Dick and social workers had clashed on what she needed to do to prepare for her trip.
"It appears that child welfare authorities and the father weren't able to cooperate on drawing up a plan of attack," the written ruling said.
"Because of this, Laura became caught in a downward spiral."
Laura's lawyer Peter de Lange praised Wednesday's decision for clarifying that if Laura meets certain conditions — which were not made public — she will be given permission to depart on her trip next summer.
"It's not, 'do your best and we'll see' anymore," he said. "It's, 'if you do your best than it's going to happen and we'll see to it that it does'."
Child Welfare Authority spokesman Jan Dirk Sprokkereef said he was satisfied that Laura's father Dick will cooperate with the agency in the future.
"It was necessary to talk it through at this hearing, with the judges there," he said. "There's still a chance that the sea journey will go through."
Laura's mother Babs Muller had left the court in tears earlier Wednesday after her home had been excluded as a possible place for Laura to stay.
"They know everything much better," she told reporters sarcastically, pointing to the courthouse. "They know what's best for my child."
Under Dutch law, Laura is considered a minor until she is 18 years old.
The youngest person to sail solo around the world is 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain. Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson, is currently trying to beat Perham's record.