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Adventure Travel

Aug 18, 2017

Searching for Wild Chimpanzees Part 1: Languishing on the Liemba

A journey to find some of Africa's last remaining wild chimpanzees starts (somewhat un-fittingly) with a ride on the world's oldest passenger/cargo steamer—a WWI warship that's been trudging along since 1913.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Click Here to Read Part 2: Marvellous Mahale 

Waiting in Mpulungu, we seemed to be the only people in Zambia who knew the Liemba was coming…

The Liemba is a passenger and cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, stopping along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, between the ports of Mpulungu in Zambia and Kigoma in Tanzania.

Built in Germany in 1913, the Liemba (initially called the Goetzen) was taken apart, packed into 5000 boxes and shipped to Dar es Salaam (at that time part of German East Africa). From Dar es Salaam the boxes were taken by train to Kigoma, where she was finally rebuilt and launched onto the lake in February 1915.

During the First World War the Liemba was converted into a German gunboat, and was one of the three ships the Germans used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the war. The Goetzen initially gave the Germans complete supremacy on Lake Tanganyika. She ferried cargo and personnel across the lake, and provided a base from which to launch surprise attacks on Allied troops. In July 2016 during the German retreat from Kigoma, her captain had her scuttled in order to avoid the ship falling into Allied hands.

Luckily, the engineers in charge of scuttling the ship loaded it with sand and covered the engines with a thick layer of grease before carefully sinking her, this meant she would be well preserved despite ultimately spending over a decade under water. There was an initial, and not entirely successful attempt to salvage the Liemba/Gotzen by the Belgians in 1918. In 1924, a British Royal Navy salvage team eventually raised her and finding the layers of grease had preserved the engines they decided to rehabilitate it. In 1927 she returned to service as the Liemba. Today the Liemba is the last vessel of the German Imperial Navy still actively sailing anywhere in the world.

The Liemba has had a colourful past. From cargo and passengers, to naval gun ship and back. She was the inspiration for the CS Forrester’s novel ‘The African Queen’ and the subsequent movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. In 1997 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees used the Liemba to help repatriate more than 75,000 refugees who had fled Zaire during the First Congo War. In May 2015 she was used again by the United Nations, this time to evacuate 50,000 refugees fleeing from the troubles in Burundi. The Liemba has now settled down to a more sedate, if rather unreliable, ferry service.

Ferry operations ostensibly run twice a month between Kigoma and Mpulungu, though we found ourselves waiting in Mpulungu for a ferry that everyone said wasn’t coming. Despite having it on good authority that the Liemba was on its way (we knew a guy working onboard), the port authorities in Mpulungu were adamant it would not be arriving that day, the next day, or in fact any day in the foreseeable future! We waited patiently, and finally it appeared on the horizon, forcing the staff at the port to concede we perhaps were right after all.

Accommodation on the Liemba ranges from a handful of first class cabins, to seating for up to 600 third class passengers. We managed to secure ourselves one of the first class rooms, though remove all images of the QE2 from your mind when picturing our ‘state room’! We had a bunk bed that took up half the room, a small sink in one corner, one plastic garden chair and thankfully, a working fan. As third class is situated below decks in the sweltering bowels of the boat, the bulk of the passengers seem to sleep on deck, arranged in an array of yoga-like of positions, on all available surfaces. One family had come well prepared with a large double bed mattress that they ensconced themselves on for their journey. It was not uncommon to find someone had gone to sleep in our doorway blocking the only way out of our cabin.

There are docks at Kigoma, Mpulungu and Kipili but at all other stops passengers and goods have to travel between ship and shore on small local boats. This provided hours of entertainment for us passengers, watching with amusement, as joining or departing passengers had to scrabble from one bouncing boat to another, sometimes in the middle of the night. Watching from the upper decks I saw ‘generously proportioned’ ladies in their ‘Sunday best’ and toting large handbags, being hoisted unceremoniously aboard, babies were passed like packages from one set of arms to another; all the while the oarsmen on the smaller boats struggled to keep things relatively stable, and countless instructions and advice were shouted from all directions.

We had left Mpulungu basically empty, doubtless because no one in Zambia, aside from us, knew the Liemba was coming and no one had time to prepare any cargo or get ready to travel themselves. With each stop along the way passengers boarded and the empty hold gradually filled up with bags of grain and an endless variety of other cargo, the ships crane working overtime. Having started in Zambia with a few boxes of apples and oranges and apparently very little else in the way of cargo, by day two the deck was full of chickens and ducks, clucking and quacking, numerous motorbikes and bicycles and an extensive and aromatic collection of dried fish heading to market.  We woke one morning to discover two large containers full of live tropical fish had somehow been hoisted aboard and were now ensconced like giant aquariums, complete with filters, on the foredeck.

Travelling at a ‘stately speed’ of 11 knots/20km an hour… half way through day three we passed our destination, the remote and inaccessible Mahale Mountains National Park, and thirty minutes later it was our turn to clamber down the side of the Liemba and into one of the flotilla of wooden boats who were waiting below to ferry passengers to Lagosa. Six boatmen wielding homemade wooden oars paddled us to shore, while we balanced our luggage precariously on our laps and a guy with a bucket worked even harder than the oarsmen, bailing out the bottom of the leaky vessel.

Reaching shore, with a quick haggle over the cost of our ‘water taxi ride’, we were back on dry land and ready to start the next leg of our journey to Mahale and some of the last remaining wild chimpanzees in Africa

The Outdoor Voyage: Go Trekking with Rwanda’s Gorillas. 

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Environment

Dec 21, 2018

Youth v. USA: Carbon Capitalism on Trial

As a nation's leaders shrink from imminent global catastrophe, its youth rise to the challenge. In the US, a lawsuit against the federal government could galvanize climate change policy.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Aji Piper was just 15 years old when he and 20 other adolescents sued the federal government. Their contention: due to decades of misconduct, the country’s highest bureaucracy is responsible for deleterious climate change. Three years later, their lawsuit, Juliana vs. USA, awaits a trial date. As citizens poised to inherit a volatile climate and its incumbent challenges, the youth plaintiffs have turned to the courts as the last bulwark against an administration devoted to business-as-usual. As children and young adults, Piper and the other prosecutors have the activist mentality and tech-savvy to promote their case online and in the streets. “We are agency in action; we have to win in the court of law and the court of public opinion,” Piper says.

Youth rally for climate justice

They’ve already got climate science on their side. Consensus from this month’s UN “Conference of the Parties” (COP) climate summit is that urgent remedial action is required of world leaders to address anthropogenic climate change. At the conference, heavyweight investors warned of $23 trillion annual economic losses should global leaders fail to slash carbon emissions and phase out coal burning. October’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report called for a 45% reduction in global carbon dioxide emission to avoid irrevocable climate-related dangers including sea level rise, mass crop loss, and extreme weather events. Forecasts predict a global temperature increase of 3°C since pre-industrial numbers by the end of the century—well above the 1.5°C target most experts champion. Climate-related hazards unfold on a visceral level as anomalous wildfire events, coastal inundations, and exacerbated respiratory ailments such as asthma. The sirens of the climate change newsroom have reached fever pitch, but they’ve fallen on deaf ears at the federal level.

Oil well at sunrise. Image via Pixabay.

Federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

The prosecutors of Juliana vs. USA first brought their qualms to the judicial realm under the Obama administration in 2015. Their bid for trial puttered through a series of bureaucratic postponements that bled into the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s administration poses an additional hurdle for the lawsuit. The president, an outspoken climate change denier, has called global warming “a total, and very expensive hoax”, and has pursued pro-fossil-fuel policy since taking office. Just last week, his administration released plans to retract protection of the greater sage grouse on some nine million acres of public lands in the West to pursue oil and gas drilling. According to policy experts, the action would open up more land to drilling than any previous move the administration has made.

Youth rally for climate justice

Ironically, the defendants won’t be denying the climate science, which Juliana lawyer Philip Gregory knows is airtight. Instead, they will obfuscate the link between climate change and bodily harms and contest federal responsibility for rising carbon emissions. But Gregory says that the government has known since the 1950s that burning fossil fuels could affect the climate. “They put a foot on the accelerator and ramped up fossil fuel extraction through federal leasing and opening up the Gulf and the Arctic for drilling, despite knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions could have devastating negative health effects,” he informs. According to Gregory, the global crises is the result of more than political paralysis; affirmative government action fueled the catastrophe.

Youth rally for climate justice

The case raises some imposing questions. How will federal policies address the uncertain boundaries of climate change? What responsibility does a government bear to its citizens with respect to the climate? Gregory and the prosecutors have an answer. “The government does not have a duty to directly protect anyone; however, if it creates a danger or is a substantial factor in creating the danger, then it is obligated to protect citizens from harm,” Gregory explains. He analogizes fossil fuel to foster care. “A classic example would be the state-run foster care system. If they have reason to suspect that a licensed foster-care provider is not helping children but continue to license that provider, they would be liable for the suffering of children under the care of the negligent provider.” Essentially, federal subsidy of the fossil fuel industry has resulted in human suffering due to climate change, and they are liable for the damage.

Piper claims that Washington’s culpability is incontrovertible because “livable climate is essential to a free and ordered society.” He wants to test the clout of the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government is responsible for good stewardship of critical natural resources. The plaintiffs reason that healthy climate, a natural resource comparable to clean air or safe drinking water, is entitled to legal protection. But the potency of the public trust doctrine is already under siege; on Tuesday the EPA released proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that would truncate federal protection of vast tracts of seasonal wetlands and waterways. The plan is the latest effort by the Trump administration to rescind “regulatory overreaching” Obama-era environmental policy they claim stifles development. As the proposal demonstrates, even an established protection like the Clean Water Act is subject to the agenda of the sitting government. Federal curbing by the GOP can limit the efficacy of a “public trust” designation.

Youth rally for climate justice

It’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report.

Should Juliana triumph in court, the US government would be bound by law to develop a climate recovery plan. According to Piper, the plan’s content is outside the jurisdiction of the courts but will necessitate unprecedented commitment to reforestation and other carbon sequestration efforts, renewable energy subsidies, and an aggressive dismantling of fossil-fuel infrastructure. That’s a tall order of a government whose President said in October: “I don’t know that it’s [climate change] manmade…I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.” An adequate climate plan would entail a complete overhaul of US carbon capitalism, a radical reconfiguration that the present administration will resist with every political roadblock at their disposal. Stall tactics might include an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, or even to the Supreme Court and its conservative-leaning bench. Due to the ambiguity of a “climate recovery plan” and the legislatorial challenges of a polarized government, it’s unclear whether victory in court will impact global carbon emissions in the critical time-frame prescribed by the IPCC report. But every month counts on a destabilizing planet, and the lawsuit’s prompt success could mean the difference between 1.5°C of warming and 3°C. “Even if we do pass a ‘tipping point’, I won’t stop being an activist,” Piper concluded. “Even helping one community or one family is making a positive impact, and that’s enough for me.”

Youth rally for climate justice. Photos provided by Marlow Baines.
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