WI 'pirates' welcome Somali hostage victim

Women's Institute member: "I was a tad embarrassed"

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A former ship's captain held hostage by Somali pirates got a red-faced welcome from fancy dress pirates at a Devon Women's Institute (WI).

The Parkham WI thought Colin Darch was going to be speaking to them about piracy, not realising he was held hostage for 47 days in 2008.

"They were more embarrassed than me," said Mr Darch, 75.

WI treasurer Steph George, 54, said: "He was such a good sport, but we won't be dressing up again for a while."

Start Quote

It was embarrassing but he was such a great chap and he wasn't offended”

End Quote Steph George WI member

The WI group has dressed up to match guest speakers' themes in the past.

So when Mrs George heard that Mr Darch was going to talk about piracy, she and the 14 other members of the group decided they knew what to wear.

"I unfortunately thought it would be a good idea to dress up as pirates," said Mrs George.

"Mr Darch came in and said he had been held hostage by Somali pirates.

"It was embarrassing, but he was such a great chap and he wasn't offended."

Mr Darch, from Appledore, said: "They were a bit nonplussed, but it didn't bother me. They had all made an effort.

"Most of them seemed to be wearing false moustaches and funny hats, it looked like a rehearsal for Pirates of Penzance.

Capt Colin Darch Colin Darch said negotiations with the pirates were "like a poker game"

"One lady even had a parrot on her shoulder, but it was actually a fluffy chick."

Mr Darch had been delivering a tug to Singapore when it was boarded by pirates off the coast of northern Somalia.

"Certainly it was the biggest test of my career," said the former Merchant Navy captain.

"There were nine pirates, all armed, with another 20 to 25 who kept coming and going."

The pirates asked for $2.5m (£1.6m) but eventually settled for $678,000 (£437,000) before Mr Darch and his crew of five were allowed to continue.

After 12 days he and the crew hid in the bilges thinking that a coded message they had sent would bring help from a US Navy ship.

When that failed to happen, negotiations with the tug's owner became "like a poker game".

He said: "The pirates started to fall out. I feared they might shoot one of us to bring some urgency into the situation."

Mr Darch, who is now retired, never took another ship back to that area.

But he found some willing takers at the WI for his book about his experiences.

"His book is very good," said Mrs George. "What a horrific thing to go through, but he made it very humorous and we had a great evening."

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