The effects of the hijackings could come to the fore in the run-up to Christmas, according to the British Chamber of Shipping.
This year, more than 30 ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, putting supplies that come to the UK from Asia at risk.
Gavin Simmonds, head of international policy at the chamber, told the BBC: “Car carriers with vehicles for the UK, foodstuffs from Asia, textiles and clothing, dare I say it in time for the Christmas market, will not be arriving on time if they have to [go around South Africa]. We could begin to see shortages within the next few weeks.”
Some of the ships are carrying tanks and heavy weaponry, but others carry goods as diverse as oil, gas, cars, textiles and electronics.
A flotilla of naval vessels from 10 Nato nations is now heading to the Gulf of Aden and the issue is also being discussed in the European Parliament.