Dateline: Horn of Africa -- A pair of Somali skiffs, crewed by AK-47-toting pirates, approach an apparent oil tanker in the night. After firing a few bursts, they demand the vessel surrender, only to discover their supposed prey is actually ... the flagship of the French expeditionary force.
"Oops ... D'oh!"
I suppose it was an easy mistake to make -- in addition to carrying the French flag off Somalia, the La Somme serves as a refueling vessel for the French task force. So yes, it does look a bit like a tanker. Plus, well, who knew France had a Navy? (I was under the impression they had scuttled it at Toulon.) Apparently not the poor, deluded pirates, who in hunting for a quick score, found themselves instead fleeing for their lives, in an hour-long chase that ended with five of them taken prisoner.
- Raytheon (NYSE: RTN ) , which builds a long-range, non-lethal "microwave" device to ward off undesireables.
- Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) , whose new Littoral Combat Ships are ideal for pursuing pirates close to shore.
- Boeing (NYSE: BA ) whose ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle is admirably suited to surveying a deep, blue sea.
The problem, of course, is that these are all hi-tech solutions to a low-tech problem: rifle-toters in rowboats. But as the La Somme incident suggests, there just might be an easier solution.
Thanks to the global recession, the Baltic Dry Index is down nearly 80% from its highs of last summer. Commercial shippers are cheap, and shares of DryShips (Nasdaq: DRYS ) , Eagle Bulk Shipping (Nasdaq: EGLE ) -- even Frontline (NYSE: FRO ) are languishing.
So what if we were to help these companies out? Lease a few "decoy" vessels, float 'em off the Somali coast, crew 'em with SEALs, and allow Darwinian evolution to take its course as the dumber pirates thin out the herd? It's a thought ...
All kidding aside, the La Somme incident reminds us that Somali piracy is headed back to the headlines. Pirates who were waiting out the Indian Ocean's monsoon season in recent months are back at work now -- and this year has already seen attacks top 2008's record level.
Expect more news on this front, more pressure to boost our naval presence off Somalia -- and perhaps, more profits for defense investors.