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Grimaldi Con/Ro Runs Aground on Coral Reef Off Yucatan

Grande Senegal's voyage around the Bay of Campeche to Arrecife Madagascar, top right (Pole Star)
Grande Senegal's voyage around the Bay of Campeche to Arrecife Madagascar, top right (Pole Star)

Published Jul 26, 2023 10:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Grimaldi Lines con/ro Grande Senegal has gone aground on a reef off the Yucatan Peninsula, according to local media and AIS data.

On the evening of July 20, Grande Senegal got under way from the port of Altamira, north of Tampico. She was headed for Brunswick, Georgia, according to operator Grimaldi - but instead of setting a northeasterly course on the shortest route, she headed south instead and hugged the coastline of the Bay of Campeche. 

In the early hours of July 22, as she rounded the northern end of the Yucatan Peninsula, she went from a speed of 18 knots to a full halt at Arrecife Madagascar, a reef about 20 nm off the small port of Sisal. She has not moved since, according to data provided by Pole Star

Photos of the site published by local outlet Yucatan Ahora show the top of the vessel's propeller above the water. In other images, the majority of the bulbous bow is clearly visible. 

The water depth at the site of the grounding is in the range of 15-20 feet, according to local outlet Milenio. The ship's current reported draft via AIS is 27 feet.

The reef is known to fishermen and divers as a breeding ground for fish and a destination for tourists. The extent of any damage along the ship's entry track into the reef is not yet fully known, and local stakeholders are concerned that the process of refloating the ship may cause additional damage. 

Miguel Ek Pech, port commissioner for the community of Sisal, told Milenio that his office will file a complaint with the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) for the ecological damage. "When they are going to remove the ship that is stranded practically on all coral, there is going to be a massive destruction," warned Ek Pech.

Dive assessments are reportedly under way for the preparation of a salvage plan, and the anchor handler Atlantic Osprey is attending the ship. No oil pollution or injuries have been reported, according to Grimaldi, and the responders are currently working on a salvage plan. 

Arrecife Madagascar is part of the Campeche Bank Reef complex. In addition to corals and marine life, it is home to much older shipwrecks from the 1700s-1800s, a period when Sisal was a busy seaport. In that era, the reef was considered enough of a hazard to navigation that a lighthouse was installed to warn shipping (it has long since subsided under the sea).

Reflecting its long-known status, Arrecife Madagascar is charted, and it is described in detail in the NGA sailing directions. According to NGA, Arrecife Madagascar is the same color as the surrounding water, and seas do not break on it, rendering missing two of the typical warning signs of a shoal ahead.

NGA cautions mariners transiting this region that Campeche Bank Reef is poorly surveyed overall, and that "it is reasonable to assume that many more dangers exist than are shown on the charts." 

The 2010-built Grande Senegal is the second Grimaldi Lines con/ro involved in a major marine casualty in less than a month. On July 5, a fire broke out aboard Grande Costa d’Avorio at the port of Newark, New Jersey. Two firefighters were killed in the early phase of the response, and the blaze burned for five days. 

Three Grimaldi vessels caught fire in 2019, including the con/ro Grande America, which ultimately went down off the coast of France.