Workers at this shipyard in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo are putting the finishing touches to a newly constructed boat that will sail one of Africa’s Great Lakes – Lake Kivu.
The 58 meter-long boat is the 13th from a series of locally assembled boats named Emmanuel, by its makers.
They have become a significant mode of transport from the lake side city of Goma to Bukavu, as an alternative to a journey that could take up to five days by road.
We have no roads in Congo, the authorities do not care. The roads are in a bad state. For example, driving from Goma to Bukavu takes at least five days by road but only a day by boat
The Emmanuel boats were a brainchild of a Congolese engineer called Emmanuel Semmanyenzi.
The vessels are assembled in Goma by a group of local engineers and support staff, most of whom are self taught craftsmen trained in the art of building pirogues that have sailed the lake for centuries.
They use material imported from Europe and Asia.
It takes about one year to completely assemble a boat.
“All the equipment is imported, we don’t’ manufacture anything here, we import it. But everything is assembled here, we import and install here,” said construction foreman, Ponyo Baruti.
Congo suffers from poor infrastructure and unreliable public transport battered by decades of war and mismanagement.
These boats have become a lifeline for people who have to cross Lake Kivu regularly to trade and connect with family and friends on the either side.
A boat leaves daily from the port of Goma to Bukavu, and back, ferrying between hundreds of passengers and tonnes of goods, for a distance of about 130 kilometers.
“We have no roads in Congo, the authorities do not care. The roads are in a bad state. For example, driving from Goma to Bukavu takes at least five days by road but only a day by boat. That is why we prefer transporting our merchandise by boat, because it’s more convenient,” Aruna Maombi.
The Emmanuel boat offers three classes of service, as well as a restaurant, a night-club and a few beds.
Lwenindale Mibola is the financial director for Silimou, the entity that runs Emmanuel boats.
“We have more than 200 to 300 people per trip. This has also created employment, especially at the arrival point when you find small vendors and small business setting up to cater to the hundreds of passengers that pass through. So that is also money that is contributed to the economy,” he added.
The company also plans to expand to routes in neighbouring countries, with the first one from Goma to Tanzania.