The paper presents a case history of the serious impact of an oil spill on a fragile tropical ecological system off the coast of Mozambique .
On 17 April, 92, a Greek-owned, delerict oil tanker, Katina-P, ran aground, spilling 3000 tonnes of spent fuel oil in the Mozambican territorial waters in the Mozambique Channel off Maniça, about 100 km north of Maputo City. The southward movement of the Agulhas current dispersed the oil in the form of scum and tarballs into the semi-enclosed Maputo Bay, estuaries of Incomati and Matola rivers, mangroves at Montanhana and Catembe, beaches of Catembe, Polana, Costa do Sol and Bairro dos Pescadores, Xefinas Island, etc. with diastrous biogeochemical and socio-economic consequences. The oil scum degraded the mangroves and spawning grounds of fish and shrimp over an area of about 2000 ha. Tarballs and scum formed ugly and sticky mats on the tourist beaches near Maputo City for a distance of about 20 km. As the spilt oil contained poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) which are known to be carcinogenic, the Government banned the semi-industrial, artisanal and sportive fishing, and the collection of mollusks and crustaceans. A few thousand families of fishermen were deprived of the means of livelihood for several weeks. Due to lack of trained personnel and facilities in Mozambique, detailed investigations could only be started in Oct.92. Meanwhile, the owners surreptitiously towed the tanker to deeper waters in the Mozambique Channel and sunk it there, thus deliberately destroying the evidence of culpability on the part of the tanker owners.
The Katina-P episode holds several lessons for Mozambique in particular,and Developing countries in general. If the littoral countries in a region have linked databases on the nature of the currents and littoral drift along the coast, and laboratory facilities and trained personnel for the analysis of the hydrocarbon scum, it would have been possible to do simulation studies to predict the pathways of the oil spill, and to design ways and means of containing and eliminating it with international assistance. There is obvious need to adapt to the Southern African Devolepment Community region, the kind of emergency preparedness systems developed by UNEP-APELL, Paris, to cope with oil spills.