Container ship

The Halifax Port Authority is reviewing an incident where a container ship's engine failed in the Narrows. (CBC)

There are calls for a key safety measure to be made mandatory in the Narrows of Halifax Harbour after a 280-metre container ship lost engine power two weeks ago and was righted with the help of a tug tethered to the stern.

The OOCL Oakland, a Post Panamax ship, was turning toward the Macdonald Bridge as it cleared the Narrows — a constricted passage to the Bedford Basin — when its engine momentarily failed three times early in the morning of Nov. 5.

The vessel was helped by tugs, one of them tethered to the Oakland with a stern tow line.

Tug companies charge to tether vessels. The Atlantic Pilotage Authority said the tether is not mandatory for ships, although the Halifax Port Authority said it is required for certain vessels. 

Veteran harbour watcher Mac Mackay revealed the incident on his blog and wrote that a stern tether acts like a rudder.

He is urging stricter regulations so all large ships travelling through the Narrows have a stern tether. He raised the prospect of a massive ship floating into the bridge, or drifting with dangerous goods on board.

Mackay raised the spectre of another Halifax Explosion if vessels go without the tow line and there in an emergency.

The Halifax Port Authority said it will study the incident and incorporate it into a larger review already underway into safety in the Narrows.

"The pilots and the tugs did a fantastic job of stepping in and doing what needed to be done," said Lane Farguson, a spokesman for the Port of Halifax.

"It's also important to point out in this particular case there was no injury and no damage to property as result of the incident."

There are also questions being raised about why the Macdonald Bridge wasn't cleared of traffic, even though the pilot onboard the Oakland radioed that it should be closed.

The Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission said it had people on site and monitoring the ship's progression, but the general manager and CEO said he was not familiar with a request to stop traffic.

"At all times matters were, from our perspective, under control," said Steve Snider.

"There was no threat to the bridges."