Dutch teen's flight to Antilles may spell end of her sailing dream


A TEENAGE Dutch girl desperate to be the youngest solo round-the-world sailor may never fulfil the dream after she fled her home in the Netherlands and turned up on the Dutch Antillean island of St Maarten after an international police alert.

Laura Dekker (14) made headlines last autumn when a Dutch court ordered authorities to take temporary guardianship of the then 13-year-old, delaying her plan to sail solo around the world until psychologists could access her capacity to undertake the risky voyage.

Her father appealed for Laura to be allowed to go ahead with her two-year trip in a 26ft (8m) boat, called Guppy.

However, judges decided she would face mental and physical risks on the journey.

Pleading for her to be allowed to go, her father had said: “We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control”.

But after two months of consideration, the courts in Utrecht ordered that she be kept under supervision of the child protection authorities until next July.

Apparently resigned to her fate as a second-year high-school student, Laura agreed to postpone her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the globe for the moment.

But at the end of last week she was reported missing to police in Utrecht who, fearful that she might have set sail, put out a marine alert.

In fact, her beloved yacht was found moored in the harbour.

She turned up on Sunday on the Dutch side of St Maarten, which is jointly shared by the Dutch and French, after conflicting reports that she had been seen by a local who was aware of the international search.

But afterwards it transpired that she had telephoned her social worker in Holland to assure her she was safe. Her parents are divorced and her mother lives in Germany.

The teenager, who has been living with her sailing-fanatic father – who managed to raise thousands of euro in sponsorship for her solo round-the-world bid – is thought to have used sponsorship funds to get to the Caribbean.

There was mystery about how she managed to board a flight. The Dutch military police issued a statement saying she had not left from a Dutch airport. She also has Dutch and New Zealand nationality.

Devastated that she could not take up the sailing challenge, Laura, acknowledged as a brilliant young sailor, had threatened to leave Holland for New Zealand and try from there to fulfil her dream.

Child protection agency sources in Utrecht said yesterday the courts had made the correct decision in preventing her from taking up the world record-breaking attempt. By running away, Laura had shown she was in need of adult guidance, they said.

Utrecht police said she would be questioned on her return to the Netherlands later today about how she managed to leave without parental support or that of an adult. A spokesman said that a criminal investigation was not at this stage being mounted.