If you don't get the electronic gadget you'd been hoping for this Christmas, there's now a scapegoat other than the economic slowdown – modern-day pirates.

We're not talking about skinny Swedish nerds with goatees, but instead are referring to the rocket-launcher and machine-gun-toting crews of African pirate boats that are becoming an increasing danger to international shipping.

Sayonara Suez

Although piracy in the waters off Somalia has long been a problem, a recent spike in the number of boats hijacked is causing shipping firms to consider avoiding the area by eschewing the Suez Canal in favour of travelling around the Cape of Good Hope.

Any such move will affect goods bound for Europe from the Middle East and Asia. That includes oil, gas and – of course – the electronic goodies so dear to our hearts.

Delays inevitable

Routing container ships via southern Africa would add three weeks and considerable expense to journeys, meaning goods that do reach Europe in time for Christmas will probably cost more.

With an eye on headlines, a spokesperson for the International Transport Workers' Federation spelled it out. Sam Dawson said: "Despite all the publicity over piracy it will really hit home when consumers in the West find they haven't got their Nintendo gifts this Christmas."