Russia is ``seriously concerned`` about the fate of a Ukrainian ship`s crew held by Somali pirates since Sept. 25, and is working with the U.S. to free them, the Foreign Ministry said in its first statement on the standoff, Bloomberg reported.

The ministry ``is closely following the efforts to free the ship and its crew and is actively taking part in them, having established for this purpose cooperation with the authorities of Ukraine, the U.S., and the leadership of the International Red Cross,`` according to the statement on the ministry`s Web site.

Somali pirates seized the Faina, a Belize-flagged vessel with a crew of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian, on Sept. 25, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said. It was carrying at least 30 Soviet-designed T-72 battle tanks to Kenya.

One of the Russians, the Faina`s captain, Vladimir Kolobkov, died in captivity, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed today. ``Unfortunately, because of unacceptable conditions set by the pirates, attempts by the Red Cross and our American colleagues to release the body of the dead captain have proved unsuccessful,`` the ministry said.

``The Russian side nevertheless considers that the joint efforts of all participants will lead to a successful outcome of the crisis and the freeing of the crew and of the ship,`` the ministry said.

The Faina is surrounded by U.S. and other warships off the coast of Somalia. The pirates originally sought a ransom of $20 million before lowering their demand to $8 million. They threatened to sink the ship, then withdrew the threat.

Warship Intrepid

Russia also has a warship, the Neustrashimy or Intrepid, on its way to the coast of Somalia. Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said on Oct. 21 that the warship ``may join in the activities of ships from foreign navies`` in trying to free the Faina.

Russian-U.S. military relations, long tense over a series of issues including U.S. plans to place elements of a missile- defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, received a boost on Oct. 21 when Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met his Russian counterpart General Nikolai Makarov in Finland.

It was their first meeting since Makarov`s promotion this summer. Makarov described the talks as ``extremely open, honest and substantive`` in comments posted on the Defense Ministry`s Web site yesterday.

The two agreed to hold regular phone calls ``and, when necessary, hold face-to-face meetings, which, I think, will become systematic and regularly planned,`` Makarov said.