Dutch teen sailor found in Caribbean

AP News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2009 8:42 PM

Police confirmed Sunday they have tracked down 14-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker in the Caribbean territory of St. Maarten, days after she ran away from home leaving her boat behind.

Dekker made headlines around the world earlier this year when she unsuccessfully went to court as a 13-year-old to fight for the right to set off on a single-handed circumnavigation of the world in her boat, Guppy.

St. Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson confirmed that Dekker was on the island Sunday evening, and said efforts are under way to get her back to the Netherlands. He declined to provide further details.

The Child Protection Agency in the Netherlands could not immediately be reached for comment late Sunday.

St. Maarten is part of the Netherlands Antilles, a group of self-governing Caribbean islands that are part of the Dutch kingdom.

Earlier Sunday, Utrecht police spokesman Bernhard Jens said Dutch authorities issued an international alert after Dekker was reported missing Friday.

Jens said Dekker's boat Guppy, was still moored at its usual berth.

"We do not believe this is a crime," Jens said.

Jens would not comment on a report in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that Dekker withdrew euro3,500 ($5,000) from her bank account a few days ago.

NOS cited a family spokeswoman as saying that Laura left a letter for her father before disappearing. It did not say what was in the letter.

The spokeswoman, Mariska Woertman, did not return calls seeking comment.

In October, Utrecht District Court refused to let Dekker embark on her attempt to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world, and placed her under the supervision of child care authorities until next July, meaning she could not leave the country without their permission.

Dekker has joint Dutch and New Zealand citizenship because she was born on a yacht in New Zealand waters. She said earlier this year she might try to go there if Dutch authorities refused to let her sail.

"We are doing everything we can to make sure we can get her back," Jens said. "We are certainly concerned about her health _ we are talking about an underage girl."

After the October court ruling Woertman said Dekker remained confident she would be ready to sail next July and would still be able to set the record as the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

The Utrecht court first blocked her departure in August out of concern for her safety. The decision sparked a worldwide debate on how much authorities and parents should limit children's freedom to undertake risky adventures.

Laura's parents, both veteran sailors, are separated. Laura's father supported the attempt, but her mother said in a newspaper interview in September she thought Laura was too young.