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By Tim Cocks
LAGOS (Reuters) - The Nigerian sailors had started marching four captured pirates onto a boat when an officer shouted "hold on" to give the cameras a chance to get into position.
With a semi-circle of local reporters in dark orange life jackets snapping photos and rolling film, the men started moving again at Lagos naval command, chains clanking around their ankles.
The four were arrested during one of only two successful operations against a sharp rise in pirate attacks this year - and Nigerian authorities were determined to squeeze the maximum publicity out of their coup.
Pirate raids off West Africa's coastline have jeopardized shipping of commodities from the region, while insurance costs are soaring.
Commodore Chris Ezekobe, naval commander at the NNS Beecroft, a Lagos naval base, said the four had hijacked the barge and its crew on August 14 on the eastern edge of the Nigerian coast, near the port city of Calabar.
The navy intercepted the vessel, which had the pirates' speedboat in tow behind it. No one came out, nor did they respond to a radio call, Ezekobe said.
After the navy fired shots across their bow, they dropped their weapons into the water, he said, with the four bedraggled and skinny men in shorts and T-shirts standing behind him as he spoke.
Last week, the navy said it killed 12 pirates in a gun battle as they tried to flee a fuel tanker, and captured the four remaining survivors.
"These guys and the guys on the other boat, that's it," he said, when asked how many pirates had been arrested this year.
Police operations faced significant challenges in the oil-producing Niger Delta's labyrinthine creeks and swamps, he added.
"It's easy to make a sneak attack and head back into the creeks," he told reporters.
The crew of nine who had been taken hostage were also on the freed vessel during his statement. None spoke to the press.
It is very rare for the navy to catch pirates. Vessels are usually quickly robbed of cargo and valuables then released, while the pirates make their escape.
Crews are usually abducted alongside the boat, sometimes for ransom, which makes it dangerous to fire on the pirates to stop them, Lagos Navy spokesman Jerry Omodara said.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)