MV Liemba

This article is an itinerary.

The MV Liemba is a freight and passenger ferry that runs along the eastern side of Lake Tanganyika. The route goes from Kigoma in Tanzania to Mpulungu in Zambia, with many stops between. Liemba is the name of Lake Tanganyika in Swahili. Built for the Imperial German Navy, she is both the only one of their vessels still in service and the oldest passenger ferry still sailing.

English speakers may recognise her from the fine old movie The African Queen; MV Liemba was the inspiration for the German vessel Königin Luisa in that film. Humphrey Bogart plays a Canadian riverboat captain rough-and-ready, very cynical and a heavy drinker and Katherine Hepburn plays an English missionary prim, proper, idealistic and teetotal. Thrown together by circumstance, they scheme to sink the Luisa during the First World War.


MV Liemba

The ship was built in 1913 in Papenburg, Germany. She was then dismantled and shipped to Kigoma in German East Africa in 5,000 wooden crates. The railway did not extend to Kigoma at that time, so all those boxes were carried on the backs of porters for the last part of the journey.

In Kigoma, she was reconstructed and launched in 1915 under the name Graf von Goetzen, named after the governor of German East Africa. Originally, she was a warship intended to let the Germans dominate on Lake Tanganyika and she was very effective in that role, much more powerful than any other ship in the region.

However, the land part of the war in Africa did not go well for the Germans. In 1916 they were forced to retreat from Kigoma; they scuttled the ship before they left to save her from destruction, or (even worse) capture by the Allies. She was soon recovered by the Belgians, but she sank again in 1920, due to a storm.

The British brought her up again in 1924 and put her back into service, converted for use as a ferry and renamed MV (motor vessel) Liemba, in 1927. Ever since then, the MV Liemba has sailed on Lake Tanganyika, except for an interruption from 1970 to 1976.

Further readings

There are a multitude of articles written on the MV Liemba. Also recently some books have been published and may make a good preparational read (or even to be read while aboard).


It had some serious renovation done and took a break for a couple of month in 2014. The first sail after the renovation was successfully completed from 1 October 2014 to 6 October 2014 (1 day delay at final arrival in Kigoma). It should now be running from Kigoma every other week on Wednesdays (1 Oct, 15 Oct, 29 Oct, etc.) at 4pm (this should not be seen as a precise time).


Try to contact the Liemba office in English (or Swahili if you can) via email: bm.kigoma`àt´ The name of the contact person is Abel Giliard.

A great contact is Captain Mwassa Winton who can reply quickly to emails at in English or in Swahili.

Tickets and prices

Itinerary of MV Liemba with prices of 2011

Cost for tickets one way from Kigoma to Lagosa:

It seems Mzungus (whites) are talked into 1st class. That said, the upgrade cost from 2nd to 1st (and even more so 3rd to 2nd) is very much worth the difference. There are ten 1st class cabins. Cabin #1 has two additional windows to the front, thus you can watch the scenery from the cosiness of your own cabin. Also vibrations of the engine are much less notable than in the cabins further back. There is one more cabin to the front (#2? #6?) which shares these advantages.

This picture is from the office in Kigoma. It shows a price list of 2011. Though prices have increased (see Tickets) this should give an idea on what to expect. Also this may give an idea on the itinerary of MV Liemba.


A round trip starting from and ending in Kigoma on the MV Liemba takes about 5 days (plus the delay). Typical itineraries include the following (and vice versa):

While it may be possible to get off at some points and explore stuff on shore, you should be aware that the boat is not going to wait for you to get back on board. Should you miss it, you may need to wait up to 14 days to continue your journey. Always check with the captain of the Liemba before getting off the ship.

List of stops from Kigoma to Mpulungu:


  • Buffet (no refills) for TZS6000
  • Rice (or Ugali) with beef (or chicken) for TZS4,000. Choose the beef.



This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 09, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.