ALEX Salmond has paid tribute to the victims of one of Britain's worst maritime disasters which took place off the Western Isles.

The First Minister spoke movingly about the loss of the HMY Iolaire off the Lewis coast on January 1, 1919, as it returned home with 200 First World War service personnel who all perished.

Mr Salmond, who visited a memorial to the tragedy on the islands this week said: "In 1919, off the coast of the Isle of Lewis, more than 200 service personnel returning from war tragically lost their lives when the HMY Iolaire sank so close to Stornoway Harbour. It remains one of the largest domestic losses of life in the maritime history of the British Isles.

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"This year, when we mark the centenary of the start of the Great War, we reflect on the sacrifices made by generations of service men and women.

"The centenary programme will see commemorations of major battles and the observance of significant domestic events, such as the loss of HMY Iolaire."

Mr Salmond also announ­ced the centenary of the war's commemorations on the islands, led by the Gaelic Arts Agency, will be given a funding boost of £10,000.

Five multi-media exhibitions and community productions based on writings, songs and experiences of those that lived and died in the Great War are to be staged.