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Jan van Eden

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1970  Travels from Zambia- History of the S.S.Liemba

In 1970 we travelled 5 days on the S.S.Liemba from Zambia to Burundi on the Tanganika Lake. The history of this ship is fascinating.

History of the Liemba taken from sites on the internet, e.g.


T H E  H I S T O R Y  O F  T H E  L I E M B A

Originally called the Graf von Götzen, she was built in 1913 at the Meyer-Werft Shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, and named after the former Governor of German East Africa, Count Gustav Adolf Graf von Götzen.
She weighed 1,150 tons and measured 67m long and 10m wide. She was built to carry 480 tons of cargo, 60 tons of coal and 10 tons of water.
Her 2-steam engines produced together 500 horsepower which allowed her to travel at a speed of up to 10 nautical miles per hour.

Soon after being assembled, she was taken apart and packed into 5,000 watertight boxes and transported by railway from Papenburg to Hamburg harbor. From Hamburg, the boxes were loaded onto several steam ships and shipped through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez-Canal, round the Horn of Africa, down to Dar es Salaam. In Dar es Salaam the boxes were put onto the new Central Railway Line to Kigoma. The railway tracks stopped 50km short of Kigoma at that time, and so porters carried the 5,000 boxes the final 50km to Kigoma. It took 13 months for 3-German engineers with Indian and African workers to reassemble the Graf von Götzen. On the 5th February 1915, she was released into the water and in the next few weeks all the other fittings were done and the work was completed.
By May 2015 the First World War had reached Africa and the Graf von Götzen was converted into a war vessel by fitting guns onto her deck and loading her with other military equipment. After this conversion, and under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gustav Zimmer, on the 19th June 1915 the Von Götzen sank the smaller British steamer Cecil Rhodes near Mpulungu in present day Mpulungu. In the next 10 days the Von Götzen enabled the German fighters on Lake Tanganyika to beat their enemies and force them into their own territory, managing to control the entire Lake for a whole year. During that year the Von Götzen did patrols, ferried troops and supplies and supported the German fortress at Kasanga (at that time known as Bismarckburg).The Von Götzen was also used to launch surprise attacks on Allied troops in Rhodesia and the Congo. It therefore became essential for the Allied forces to gain control of Lake Tanganyika themselves. The Royal Navy brought two armed motor boats, Mimi and Toutou, to the Lake from England. These boats traveled via rail, road and finally river to Kalemie (then called Albertville) on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. The two boats waited until December 1915, and mounted a surprise attack on the Germans, capturing their gunboat, the Kingani. In February 1916 another German vessel, the Hedwig, was sunk, leaving the Von Götzen as the only German vessel remaining to control the Lake. As a result of their strengthened position on Lake Tanganyika, the Allies started advancing towards Kigoma by land, and the Belgians established an airbase on the western shore at Albertville. It was from there, in June 1916, that they launched a bombing raid on German positions in and around Kigoma. It is unclear whether or not the Von Götzen was hit (the Belgians claimed to have hit it but the Germans denied this), but German morale suffered and the ship was subsequently stripped of its gun as it was needed elsewhere. A wooden replica was installed on the Von Götzen to make it look like she was still an armed vessel. The war on the Lake had reached a stalemate by this stage, with both sides refusing to mount attacks. However, the war on land was progressing, largely to the advantage of the Allies, who cut off the railway link in July 1916 and threatened to isolate Kigoma completely. This led the German commander, Gustav Zimmer, to abandon the town and head south. In order to avoid his prize ship falling into Allied hands, Zimmer decided to scuttle the Von Götzen. The most important parts of the machinery of the ship were removed and hidden ashore. The remaining parts of the steam-engine were greased to protect them from rusting, and the Von Götzen was loaded with sand and carefully sunk at night in the mouth of the Malagarasi River on the 26th July 1916. As the war progressed, and the Germans retreated from Kigoma, the area came under control of the Belgians who quickly learned from the local community what had happened to the Von Götzen. They found the ship in the Malagarasi, and in the same year they were able to raise and tow her back to Kigoma. Unfortunately she sank again in the bay of Kigoma due to a storm. After the war, when Tanganyika was placed under British administration, the Von Götzen was again raised on the 16th March 1924. She had been under water for nearly 18 years. To everyone's surprise she was still in unexpectedly good condition. The original parts of the ship's engines which had been hidden ashore during the war, were found in good condition and were once again installed in the ship. After 3-years of restoration work the ship was put back into service on the 16th May 1927, this time christened the S.S.Liemba (the name of Lake Tanganyika in the language of the tribes around Kigoma). In 1948 the
East African Railways and Harbours Corporation (EAR&H) took over running the ferry, allowing it to link services with the Central Line from Kigoma to Dar es Salaam. During this period we travelled on the S.S. Liemba from Zambia to Burundi, before the later conversion to diesel engines.
From 1974 till 1979 the ship was overhauled, with support from the World Bank and various other development aid-programmes. At this time twin diesel engines replaced the original steam engines. After renovating the ship, she went back into service again and her name changed to the M.V. Liemba (motor-vessel) as she was no longer powered by steam.In 1997, the Liemba was used by the UNHCR, along with the MV Mwongozo, to transport more than 75,000 refugees, who had fled Zaire during the First Congolese War, back to their homeland following the overthrow of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
She was again used to repatriate Congolese refugees back to the DRC in 2013 and she has recently been used to repatriate refugees from Burundi to Kigoma in May 2015.



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