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Court to decide if Dutch girl can sail the world

Dutch court to decide if a teen should be released from state custody so she can try to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe.

Fourteen-year-old Laura Dekker sitting in the court house of Utrecht on August 24, 2009.
Fourteen-year-old Laura Dekker sitting in the court house of Utrecht on August 24, 2009.

AMSTERDAM // A Dutch court is to decide today whether a 14-year-old girl should be released from state custody so she can try to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe, a ruling that comes just days after a California teenager was rescued on a similar attempt. Laura Dekker was made a ward of the state last year after her plan to set sail aboard her small yacht raised concerns over her physical capability and her social welfare if she is isolated and out of school for months. She was then 13.

Child welfare authorities have asked the court in the southern Dutch city of Middelburg for a two-month extension of Miss Dekker's guardianship. The decision comes as the dangers she would face were highlighted this week when a 16-year-old California girl, Abby Sunderland, ran into trouble on a solo attempt when powerful waves snapped her mast in the Indian Ocean, prompting a tense 20-hour rescue mission.

At a hearing Monday, Miss Dekker's lawyer Peter de Lange argued that she has been working to meet 14 conditions imposed by the court nine months ago. She has obtained a first aid diploma, become accustomed to lack of sleep, and arranged to follow schoolwork via Internet, he said. Last weekend she made a solo trip to England and back - 22 hours each way - to show her command of her small yacht and its seaworthiness.

Miss Dekker's father, with whom she lives, approves of her attempt, while her mother has objected. The couple are separated. Last December, Miss Dekker ran away from home and traveled alone to the Caribbean. Frustrated by court-imposed rules and with her grades slipping, she fled with about US$5,000 (Dh18,363) to the Dutch territory of St Maarten. Under Dutch law, Laura is considered a minor until she is 18 years old. Last year's ruling to put her under the guardianship of state authorities meant she could live at home but her parents must consult child protection authorities about all major decisions in her life.

The unofficial record as the youngest round-the-world sailor belongs to 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson, who completed her voyage in May. When the teenager Abby Sunderland was stranded in the Southern Ocean, Australia's rescue agency chartered a jet to fly over the area where her emergency beacon was activated. The 11-hour flight cost an estimated A$110,000 (Dh347,000). After locating her, the agency sent another plane to coordinate her pickup by ships racing toward her damaged and drifting yacht. The Australian military also deployed two Orion aircraft to wait on an Indian Ocean island in case an airdrop or further assistance was needed. An Orion costs about AU$30,000 an hour to operate. * AP