Seattle veterinarian killed in Somalian pirate attack

Blog reveals details of veterinarian's adventures at sea
Feb 23, 2011
Seattle, Wash. -- A life filled with adventure ended tragically Feb. 22 for retired Seattle veterinarian Robert Riggle, 67, who was one of the four Americans killed by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Riggle was a crew member of the yacht, Quest, owned by Scott and Jean Adams of California, along with his long-time sailing companion, Phyllis Macay.

A 1967 graduate of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Riggle had worked as a relief veterinarian for the Seattle Animal Shelter.

“Dr. Riggle worked at our Spay and Neuter Clinic for many years as a relief veterinarian... He was a very kind and compassionate man. And his work with our clinic showed a true commitment to trying to solve the problem of pet overpopulation, ultimately reducing the needless euthanasia of companion animals in our area,” says Don Jordan, director of the shelter. “Dr. Riggle is mourned and will be missed by not only the clinic staff, but the entire animal welfare community.”

Riggle and Macay began an international sailing adventure in 2007, selling many of their belongings in favor of a life at sea.

They met as members of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club and from 2007 until early 2010 made 42 stops around the world on Riggle’s yacht, Gaia, according to Macay’s blog detailing the journey. Stops along their roughly three-year journey included the Pacific islands, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Greece, Italy and France.

Riggle and Macay ended their journey in early 2010, according to the blog, going their separate ways by crewing on separate boats. They both signed on to sail on Quest in late 2010, and had been a part of a large group of yachts just days before they were held hostage by Somali pirates, according to reports from their family and friends.

Macay’s blog detailed a previous journey with Riggle through pirate waters, saying they learned what precautions they should take in the future.

Just days before their deaths, U.S. forces tried to arrange the release of the hostages, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command in Florida. The yacht had been pirated on Feb. 18 and reported to U.S. authorities by a Royal Danish Navy ship.

Negotiations reportedly broke down the morning of Feb. 22 and pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade from Quest to a ship manned by U.S. forces about 600 yards away.

Immediately after, gunfire was heard from the vessel. The pirates then surrendered. When U.S. sailors boarded the ship, they found all four hostages, including Riggle, dead.

Two pirates on the ship were found dead when U.S. sailors boarded, and two more were killed while the yacht was being cleared, says U.S. Central Command. The remaining 15 that were on Quest were taken into U.S. custody. The U.S. Navy and the FBI are investigating the incident, and U.S. Central Command says the pirates could face charges in the United States.