Veterinarian among victims of pirates

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A Seattle veterinarian was among the four Americans who died Feb. 22 at the hands of Somali pirates.

Dr. Robert C. Riggle, 67, spent two decades as an equine practitioner. He then practiced in various capacities, most recently working as a relief veterinarian at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Dr. Riggle and companion Phyllis Macay started sailing the world together in 2007.

Map of the Middle East

"My staff and I remember him as a soft-spoken, kind man and a meticulous surgeon," said Dr. Mary Ellen Zoulas, medical director of the Seattle Animal Shelter Spay and Neuter Clinic. "We regretted losing him as a relief veterinarian when he left on his first round-the-world sailing trip, but we got a great deal of vicarious pleasure from tracking this trip on their blog."

Dr. Riggle and Macay spent two years circling the globe on his yacht, Gaia, with other yachts in the Blue Water Rally.

According to Blue Water Rallies Ltd., Dr. Riggle and Macay later crewed for other yachts in the rally. They recently signed on as crew for the Quest, a yacht belonging to Jean and Scott Adam of California. The Quest joined up with the Blue Water Rally in December 2010 but left Feb. 15, 2011, to take an independent route.

Near Oman, pirates boarded the Quest and took the four Americans as hostages, then headed toward Somalia.

On Feb. 18, the U.S. Navy learned that pirates had taken control of the Quest, said Vice Adm. Mark Fox of the U.S. Naval Central Command. The Navy made contact with the pirates and began a series of negotiations. On Feb. 21, two pirates came aboard the USS Sterett to continue negotiations.

Early Feb. 22, pirates on the yacht fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward the Sterett. Gunfire also erupted inside the cabin of the Quest.

Naval forces boarded the yacht, discovering that the pirates had shot all four hostages. The hostages were dead or dying. Naval forces captured 13 pirates alive, in addition to the two onboard the Sterett.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement in response to the American deaths.

"This deplorable act firmly underscores the need for continued international progress toward confronting the shared security challenge posed by piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa," Clinton said.

On March 10, a federal grand jury in Virginia indicted 14 of the men in custody—13 Somalis and one Yemeni—on counts of piracy as well as conspiracy to commit kidnapping and use of a destructive device during a crime of violence. A piracy conviction carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.

Dr. Riggle earned his veterinary degree in 1967 from the University of California-Davis. He also served in the U.S. Air Force. See Dr. Riggle's obituary.