Call Them Killers


(Wave Writer, April 2011)

In Phyllis Macay’s typical photo pose, her arms are outstretched, open to all of life’s joy and pain. Stories of her confirm this was her personality. She wasn’t the life of the party, she made the party. When she joined a crew, it wasn’t to sit unobtrusively out of the way because she wasn’t the most experienced, it was to jump in with both feet and contribute however she could. I would have loved sailing with Phyllis.

I’ll never have that chance. So-called pirates killed her, along with my acquaintance and fellow Laser sailor Bob Riggle, and two other American sailors. The boat they were on, Quest, had split from the flotilla that offered some degree of safety.

My impressions of Phyllis are from a “celebration of life” gathering put on by the Seattle Singles Yacht Club, every member of which seemed to have an endearing story about her.

I’m going to call the perpetrators of this crime cowardly, cold-blooded killers. The word “pirate” conjures up some kind of swashbuckling rascal, not desperate, amoral people that kidnap and kill.


Phyllis and Bob


Bob, a veterinarian, came to sailing late in life. Quietly, methodically, he learned sailing the right way. I knew him from when he sailed a Laser dinghy. The little boat is a great teacher, but a tough one, and Bob impressed me time after time with his persistence. His first keelboat was a simple and forgiving Cal 29. He eventually bought his dreamboat, a J/109 named Gaia.

As a member of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club, he volunteered to be fleet captain. He helped found the J/109 one-design class here in Seattle. When he bought a piece of equipment, he examined the instructions and grilled the sales people until he understood every aspect of it. Whenever a fellow J/109 owner had a question about the boat, they’d run it by Bob. The J/109 is naming its annual championship trophy the Bob Riggle Memorial Trophy.

Bob’s 50th high school class reunion was coming this year. His adventures would surely have been the big topic of conversation. One of his most exciting tourist activities was to see orangutans in the wild. He was an avid polo player. His last ocean crossing was to help a friend on a transoceanic delivery of a long distance motor yacht.

One can learn a lot about someone upon their death, usually things you would have liked to know about them in life. In Bob’s case, it was that he did volunteer veterinary work for the SPCA and volunteered for the Operation Nightwatch program for the homeless. A letter from that organization, read aloud at the celebration of life, stated “There was a lot more to this guy than sailing. Just thought you should know.”            A common theme emerged in all the stories about Riggle. He gave more than he asked for.

Jim Johnston recalled how careful Bob was on a Hawaii-Seattle voyage aboard Gaia and how that constant vigilance meant lots of lost sleep for the skipper. Bob and Phyllis had traversed the Gulf of Oman in Gaia before, in company with about 15 boats and with the support of Blue Water Rally. If you read the account of that early 2009 trip (on the website), it’s clear how aware Bob was of the dangers and how highly he valued travelling in company with other boats.

In short, it’s a real mystery why he was on a boat that split from the group. He wasn’t that kind of guy. Of course, he wasn’t the skipper.

His son Paul, his daughter Amy Shamah, his brother Jim and grandchildren Lukas and Calla survive Bob Riggle, who died at age 67.

At Seattle Single’s YC Celebration of Life gathering on Monday, February 28th, the room was filled with happy stories of Phyllis. She had converted the quarter berth on Bob’s boat into a 200-unit spice rack and food pantry. She costumed Bob on Halloweens and put a really big smile on his face. A mooning incident in downtown Edmonds may have amused some of the law enforcement but resulted in a fine that Phyllis would probably have said was worth it.

One of her close friends said, “If Phyllis were here, everybody would be in costume and the place would be decorated.” At sea, she was equally welcome. “Phyllis was great. Just great.” Johnston said of Phyllis, who did that same Hawaii trip aboard Gaia.

Phyllis is survived by her mother, Patricia Drinkland, with whom she was very close, and by her niece Nina Crossland. Both live in California.

Together, as a couple and as friends, Bob and Phyllis crossed an ocean together and logged more amazing adventures into three years than most people do in a lifetime.


Facts and Questions

The basic facts leave as many questions as answers: They were sailing on the 50-foot Quest with Jean and Scott Adam as part of the Blue Water Rally flotilla. Why did they leave the flotilla? At the time of their deaths, two of the killers were aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Sterett at the time of the shootings, apparently still in negotiations for release of the hostages but not in communication with their comrades on Quest. Did they have the power to negotiate and did the other killers have faith in them? The killers onboard Quest fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at the Sterett around the same time as two of them were killed on the Quest and the four hostages were shot. What happened in those minutes? Who killed the two pirates? Who killed the hostages? Whose bright idea was it to attack the US Navy?

Navy SEALSs apparently met with partial resistance; only two of 15 or so killers onboard were killed, one shot and one knifed. Why were some resisting and others not? The Adams carried bibles onboard Quest for handing out. Did that somehow enter into the picture?

And, the overriding question remains “what were they doing in those known pirate waters in the first place? They were aware of the dangers.” The implication is, well, weren’t they just asking for it? Many of us might have made different choices. I’m far too frightened of killers to sail there, but many cruisers aren’t. In my opinion, killers shouldn’t get to dictate where we go. Being able to sail in international waters is something all boaters should hold dear.

As this article is going to press, the 13 captured Somalis and one Yemeni were indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia (Norfolk, VA) on piracy, kidnapping and use of a destructive device during a crime of violence. If convicted, the accused could receive consecutive life sentences for each offence. Piracy requires a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

The indictments provide little other information, and the Department of Justice can’t tell us much more until further along in the legal process. The question I’d most like answered is why did they leave the Blue Water Rally flotilla. The answer might well be in a log or some other evidence recovered onboard the Quest.

The folk at Blue Water Rally also don’t have an adequate answer to that question. Quest joined the Rally in Phuket on December 15, and sailed with it into Mumbai. It left Mumbai sometime after February 15 in company of other boats. Then, according to Managing Director Chris Mounsey, “Quest called our UK Office on 15 February to report his departure independently on a direct route to Salalah. When asked why they had chosen to leave the Rally they reported that, being alone, they would be out in the Indian Ocean for as short a time as possible.” If his experience the first time through these waters is any indication, Bob Riggle would NEVER have used this reasoning. Perhaps there was an equipment or health issue.

As if to put an exclamation point on the Quest deaths, within approximately 48 hours of the Quest murders, the Danish Johansen family, including their three children aged 12-16, were taken hostage aboard their boat Ing. At press time the family was being held with ransom demands forthcoming. Typical of the chaos of the region, it’s not clear where they are, who is holding them or what the ransom demands are.

The Johansens might even find themselves held alongside Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Carlitz, who are being held for ransom after they were taken from a boat off the south coast of Mozambique by Somali killers several months ago. Carlitz’s brother is trying to raise a ransom for his sister’s release.

Ships are sometimes able to survive attacks. The oil tanker M/V Guanabara was taken by murderers on March 6, but her crew retreated to the “citadel,” a fortified room within the ship that many ships now have as standard equipment. The crew was able to call for help and the destroyer USS Bulkeley was nearby and was able to retake the ship without firing a shot.

It’s a war zone out there.


What About Guns


Lt. Colonel Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom) put it succinctly, “There is not going to be a military solution to the pirate problem. It has to be a civilian-led, international solution.”

Hey, wait a second. Are you telling us that with all our military might we can’t use some of those pirate boats for target practice? There are a lot of people, my normally progressive, kind-hearted and merciful self included, who wouldn’t find that too objectionable.

No. Neither the US Navy nor any other military can just clean up the killers and call it a day. There are many problems, but according to Lt. Lawhorn, the main problem is the same one local law enforcement has with bad guys in their cities. You don’t really know who the bad guys are. “Let’s say you see six guys in a boat,” he explains, “and they have fishing nets in their hands and AK 47s under their seats. Until they take a ship or a boat, they’re fishermen.” Furthermore, in an area now encompassing nearly the entire Indian Ocean, you can’t run around scooping up every boat that looks suspicious.

There are other reasons the US (or anybody) can’t go Rambo on the murderers right now:


1.     The murderers have around 800 hostages. Most were taken off commercial ships in the last several months.

2.     The waters affected cover several million square miles. The coastline is the equivalent of the tip of Maine to the tip of Florida.

3.     International Law

4.     A fair amount of our intelligence gathering resources are otherwise engaged.


One thing not on that list is international military support. The military force in place is called Coalition Task Force 151 (CTF-151), and is comprised of military assets from 20 countries. “We’re very happy with the support and cooperation from other countries,” reports Lt. Lawhorn.

The European Union has created an entity called Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA). This European Union driven taskforce coordinates security updates and breaking news so that traffic (primarily commercial) can get through these waters. MSCHOA assembles group transports, sending warships ahead to “sanitize” the waters ahead of the traffic. It’s worth noting that this organization’s function is about living with, not eliminating, the pirate crisis.

Sadly, one reason it hasn’t been dealt with is that it hasn’t gotten bad enough yet to mobilize the politicians. The shipping companies pay ransoms, and the deaths are tragic. But while there’s enough political will to keep CTF-151 out there, there isn’t enough to resolve this legally and politically on shore. After the deaths of Riggle and Macay, Secretary of State Clinton put out a perfunctory statement condemning pirates, consoling families and encouraging contributions to AMISOM. AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) is an African effort to help deal with the disaster that is Somalia. If current events and the perpetual Somalia crisis are any indication, AMISOM isn’t currently capable of anything much in Somalia. But it would sure be  more convenient for the international community if Africa could solve Somalia.

The tepid response from the US government to Riggle and Macay’s deaths indicates piracy is pretty far down the list of priorities.



What About Cruisers


It’s easy to sit in our armchairs here in Seattle and say “Well, just don’t go there.” There are lots of people out there, including Northwest sailors, who have a much more difficult decision. They’re in the Pacific and want to get to the Atlantic to see Europe, the Caribbean or just finish a circumnavigation. Their choices are: Go around one of the more treacherous capes in the world (Good Hope), ship their boats at truly outlandish costs to Europe, or go through some of the most treacherous waters in the world (the killer-infested waters in the Indian Ocean). Here’s what a couple of Pacific Northwesterners, currently cruising the Pacific, had to say.


From Fred Roswold aboard the S/V Wings in Mauritius:

We spent months debating which route to take from SE Asia to Europe, (which is where we wanted to go). Finally we decided that facing possible bad weather on the way to Africa was more acceptable than facing possible bad people (pirates). We are considering rounding the Cape and into the Atlantic, however, as the years add up for us, we are less inclined to do long ocean passages.

Cruisers in SE Asia are having a major wakeup right now. For a couple of years the thinking has been that there is little risk and many folks were proceeding through the northern Indian Ocean without significant concern. They were able to disregard the Chandlers with blithe comments about “being in the wrong area.” Since the Quest, and then the Danish yacht, however, that line of thinking has evaporated. I would think that there will be zero boats sailing through the pirate area.


From Tom Alexander aboard the S/V Rasamanis in Phuket:

The mentality of my friends seems to be ‘ship the boat to the Med.’ They roll their eyes when I say ‘I have a sailboat so I’m going to sail. That’s what it’s for and that’s what it does.’ $650/ft from here to the Med is the quote and it’s all of a sudden become a seller’s market. Watch the price go up. I have heard some outrageous rationales for spending that kind of money. It all boils down to who has the cash and who doesn’t, who are sailors and who has a waterborne RV.


Believe it or not, in less than a year the Volvo Ocean Race is scheduled to go through these very same waters on the Cape Town to Abu Dhabi leg. Race organizers will be trying to minimize risks, perhaps by sending the fleet through electronic waypoints and around “no-sail” areas. Yet, one has to believe that the killers who aren’t afraid of big oil tankers wouldn’t hesitate to take a bunch of sailors hostage.

Mark Chisnell, a racer and writer who has written a novel about piracy (The Wrecking Crew) and chronicled the last Volvo race sees that the seascape has changed over the last few years. “The counter-measures that worked in the Straits of Malacca no longer apply - water cannon and barbed wire on the railings aren't going to stop them putting an RPG onto the deck,” he says.

Rhidian Bridge, an ex-marine who is now a risk management consultant to commercial shipping, UK Ministry of Defence and the film industry, sees trouble ahead for the Volvo Race. “I would suggest that the Volvo has a serious problem.” Bridge describes an industry that has arisen around managing the risks surrounding piracy: including lawyers, negotiators, ransom delivery and security advisors. And while many operations are unarmed, there are also guns for hire despite “considerable legal issues.” Bridge concludes, “Pretty much the full extent of the Indian Ocean is now considered at risk from the current piracy issue. I am curious as to when they will move elsewhere ­– and why not?”



Now What?

In writing previously about Paul and Rachel Chandler (NWY January 2011 & January 2010) it became clear to me that this problem was bigger than an unfortunate English couple. It’s a business. In my opinion, the shipping companies have perpetuated it by looking at the ransoms and ongoing security measures as a cost of doing business.

I’m no pacifist when it comes to dealing with these killers, but a pragmatist. Unfortunately to just shoot first is not going to fix the problem.

Any real solution must address all facets of this issue. The most important and trickiest element is freeing the hostages currently held. Then, perhaps some international maritime laws have to be changed or amended so the militaries have more latitude and vessels can aggressively defend themselves. The killers’ assets must be seized (we do that to terrorists, right?) Find the sources of their weapons and cut them off. Cruisers need to stay out of the area until it’s cleaned up. The murderers caught in the act or convicted of crimes should be dealt with to the very fullest extent of the law.

And yes, there needs to be some kind of international effort to develop a semblance of an economy in a land where there hasn’t been a fully functioning government in 20 years. Chisnell points out that the historic and plentiful fishing grounds off Somalia are in crisis. Without a government protecting its fishing rights, foreign fishermen armed with modern fishing boats and equipment are decimating the fish populations, leaving Somali fishermen with nothing to catch. No doubt many of the killers would rather be fishing.

There’s no excusing piracy, but the killers must see only a big downside in piracy and a chance at survival if they change their ways.

We can do this without losing our humanity. But we need to do it now, because if piracy works, it will spread.


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