OSLO (Reuters) - The near-sinking of a police boat and a decision to await a specially armed unit from Oslo some 45 km (28 miles) away delayed the Norwegian police response to an island where a gunman killed 86 people.
“When so many people and equipment were put into it, the boat started to take on water, so that the motor stopped,” said Erik Berga, police operations chief in northern Buskerud County.
“The boat was way too small and way too poor,” he said, referring to a police vessel that had been transported to the scene from nearby Hoenefoss for crossing to Utoeya island.
The shooter, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, went about his deadly work undisturbed by police for an hour after the first reports of gunfire, other police officials said on Sunday, revising a previous estimate of almost 90 minutes.
Sissel Hammer, the police chief in Hoenefoss, said she understood why critics “think it took too long for the police to come” but said they had moved as quickly as possible.
“I ask for understanding of the fact that it takes time to send out a special armed force,” Hammer said in a statement.
“The personnel have to be notified, they must put on protective gear, arm themselves and get out to the area.”
On Saturday the acting police chief in Oslo, Sveinung Sponheim, said the shooter spent almost 90 minutes firing at young Labour Party members as they fled around the island or dived into the large Tyrifjord lake.
Sponheim said on Sunday his previous estimate was “a bit high” and defended his special anti-terror unit’s decision to travel some 45 km to the scene by road instead by helicopter.
“It was faster going by car,” he said, “because we would have had to get a helicopter from the base down south and that would have taken longer.”
He said the only helicopter available to the Oslo-based unit was parked 50 to 60 km south of the capital at Rygge airport.
Critics within the police have long complained that the “Delta” anti-terrorism unit is short of transport capacity.
Berga said that when Oslo’s Delta unit arrived at the pier across from Utoeya its leaders commandeered recreational boats to cross over.
Police sources said there had been much internal police debate over whether the first responders should have approached the island without waiting for the Oslo force.
Police released a timeline showing that the Hoenefoss police station first received reports of a shooting at 5:27 p.m. (1527 GMT). Local officers arrived at a pier across the water from the island at 5:52 p.m., but had to “wait for a suitable boat”.
From 6:09 p.m., when the specially equipped tactical police officers from Oslo arrived at the pier, it took 16 minutes for them to arrive on Utoeya, and only another two minutes before the gunman surrendered without resistance, the police said.