* U.N. identifies two main Somali piracy networks
* Horn of Africa states urged to help fight pirates
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, March 18 (Reuters) - The United Nations is concerned about the possibility of collaboration between pirates and government officials in Somalia’s Puntland region, according to a new U.N. report released on Wednesday.
The report, prepared by the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Security Council, said that it had identified two main piracy networks in Somalia — one in the semi-autonomous northern Puntland region and the other based in the Eyl district.
"There are increasing reports of complicity by members of the Somali region of Puntland administration in piracy activities," Ban’s report said. But he said it was encouraging that the current and former leadership of Puntland appeared to be taking "a more robust approach" in fighting piracy.
Pirates have been seizing vessels in the Gulf of Aden, which connects Europe to Asia and the Middle East via the Suez Canal, hijacking dozens of ships last year and taking tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments.
An official from the East African Seafarers Assistance Program said on Wednesday that Puntland villagers detained an Iranian vessel though the circumstances remain unclear.
Foreign navies, including those of Russia, China and European Union countries, have sent ships to the Horn of Africa to help tackle the threat and the effort has reduced the number of hijackings off the coast of the virtually lawless country.
In his report, Ban urged U.N. member states in the region that have "small but effective navies" to join in the fight against piracy to ensure the regular delivery of humanitarian aid to some 2.4 million Somalis who urgently need it.
Alarmed by the audacious capture of a supertanker last year, foreign navies patrolling the busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia have been taking a more aggressive approach to piracy for several months.
British forces handed over a group of pirates to Kenya in December and the French navy took gunmen it had captured to Puntland in January.
Somalia has said that piracy is merely a symptom of a wider problem — illegal fishing and dumping.
Foreign vessels moved into Somali waters en masse after the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 opened the floodgates to unlimited fishing. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)