Flags are flying at half mast in Lerwick today as politicians and Tall Ships organisers express their heartfelt sympathy with Norway following Friday’s shocking atrocities.
Norway is coming to terms with the horrific deaths of 92 people in attacks in the centre of Oslo and on a nearby island summer camp, which appear to have been the work of a lone gunman. 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, who has expressed far-right views, has been arrested.
Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness said islanders were mourning the tragedy suffered by their near-neighbours across the North Sea. Lerwick Town Hall’s flag is flying at half mast.
“This terrible tragedy is one that affects all of us, but in Shetland, with so many ties to Norway and being so geographically close, it hurts particularly badly,” Mr Cluness said.
“At this time, with so many young Norwegians in Lerwick, it highlights the connections between us. We feel for the people of Norway and the families of those who have been so cruelly murdered.”
A bomb attack was carried out on government buildings in central Oslo, before the man headed to the small island of Utøya, where he opened fire at random as young people scattered in fear. Prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said: “A paradise island has been transformed into a hell.”
The lakeside camp organised by Norway’s ruling Labour party was attended by many aged between 15 and 19, some of whom leapt into the water or climbed trees when the attacker began spraying them with gunfire.
Mr Cluness said a formal expression of sympathy was being sent to the Norwegian government. In the meantime, Mr Cluness pledged that the council and the people of Shetland would do everything they could to help the Norwegians currently in the isles. The library at Lower Hillhead in Lerwick is allowing Norwegians to make free telephone calls to their homeland.
“The council is co-operating fully with the organisers of the Tall Ships Race to provide any service we can that will ease the situation for those currently in Lerwick.”
The Tall Ships were due to leave for Stavanger in Norway on Sunday, but that has been delayed 24 hours due to the weather. Of the 53 vessels in port, 11 are Norwegian and many of the crews are young trainees aged between 18 and 25.
Event chairman Knut Western and Lerwick project manager Fiona Dally said that on behalf of everyone involved in Sail Training International and the Tall Ship Races 2011 Lerwick, they wished to express their sympathies with those affected by the attacks. “As a mark of respect, all of our 53 Tall Ships will have been asked to lower their ensigns from 9am this morning.”
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the news had been heard with “shock and horror” around the world.
“There are few places where it will be felt more keenly than in Shetland and Orkney,” he said. “As a community, Norway is one of our nearest neighbours and oldest friends. We have a long shared history and today we share their shock and grief.
It comes, of course, at a time when we play host to many young Norwegians in Shetland for the Tall Ships Races. It is especially real and affecting for our community as a result. We mourn today with the people of Norway and share their determination not to be beaten or intimidated by evil of this sort.”