Lake Tanganyika in southeastern Africa is the world’s longest freshwater lake and the second largest by volume. Plying the lake’s waters for nearly 100 years is the M/V Liemba. Originally built as the Graf von Gotzen in 1913 in Germany, the ship was intended to serve the colony of German East Africa. Upon the outbreak of World War I, though, the Graf von Gotzen was converted for use as a warship to help defend German East Africa. The commander of German forces in the region, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck , waged such a brilliant and effective defense of the colony that his forces were still at large at the time of the 1918 Armistice.
The Graf von Gotzen and her fellow gunboats so threatened Allied control of Lake Tanganyika that the Royal Navy dispatched two armed motorboats to defeat the German flotilla. Following a backbreaking journey through the jungles of Africa, the Royal Navy motorboats regained control of the lake and forced the Germans to scuttle the Graf von Gotzen in July 1916. Graf von Gotzen’s wartime experience served as the inspiration for C.S. Forester’s German gunboat Luisa in The African Queen.
In 1924, a British salvage team raised the Graf von Gotzen and, after substantial refitting, recommissioned her as the M/V Liemba, the Swahili name for Lake Tanganyika. The Liemba has been in constant use ever since and has subsequently become seriously run-down. Debates over whether to overhaul or scrap Liemba have raged for several years. The most recent plan is for an overhaul costing 20 million Euros to occur and for the ship to revert to museum ship duty after her retirement.