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Atlantic Towing Assists NATO Fleet in Halifax


The world seemed a little smaller on September 5, as Halifax welcomed nearly 3,000 sailors and airmen, warships and aircraft from eight NATO nations. Few had a better view of the activity than the four Atlantic Towing tugs that assisted the fleet into port - so we stationed a photographer on Atlantic Bear for the day to bring you a behind the scenes look at how it unfolded! 


 ATL Halifax Waterfront

The Halifax waterfront at dawn. The Atlantic Bear’s crew get an early start as they await their first job of the day. They’ll be assisting the East Coast, a small cargo ship not affiliated with the NATO fleet. 


 ATL Deckhands

Bear deckhands, Jocelyn Smith and Nita Duguay, begin casting off. Usually a tug crew will consist of three people: The Master, a Chief Engineer and a Deckhand. Today, the Atlantic Bear has three deckhands on board.



The East Coast sits in the early morning light as the tugs make their way toward the vessel. Their job is to assist the ship away from the dock and out of the harbour. They do this by passing lines, or heavy ropes, up to the ship and placing tension on those lines to push and pull the vessel as needed. Larger ships like the East Coast are designed to move forward and backward easily but can’t easily maneuver from side to side. 


The Bear, and tugs like it, are equipped with powerful engines and 360-degree rotating propellers that allow them to easily shift and steer larger vessels. 


 ATL Joe Cooking 2

While all this is happening, deckhand Joe Comeau is in the Bear’s fully equipped galley making homemade banana bread for the crew. Joe is a favorite cook among the crew, who often rotate cooking duties. 

 Angela ATL


Up in the wheelhouse, tug master Andrea MacDonald controls the tug expertly and communicates with the chief engineer and deckhands. 


She also keeps an eye on the harbour traffic schedule. This changes frequently, and she communicates changes to her crew to keep them informed and ready. 


 NATO 8 

With the East Coast now on its way, Nita Duguay takes over the Bear’s controls to hold the tug in place until the next vessel is ready to rendezvous. 

 ATL Level Ship

While waiting, we see two more Atlantic Towing tugs assisting the first NATO ship to arrive, American destroyer USS Gridley. Each warship is assigned two tugboats and they drive the ships toward port.  


 NATO Level Ship

Unlike large container ships or tankers, the NATO ships we’re working with today are smaller in size, and their decks are nearly level with the aft decks of our tugs. 



As we approach our first NATO ship, British frigate HMS Northumberland, we can see the Royal Navy crew members standing at attention or working on deck. 


 ATL Kelsie 2

Chief Engineer Kelsie MacLean watches from the wheelhouse as we approach our second NATO vessel, Belgian Navy ship Leopold I. 

Again, we have the rare chance to view the ships close-up. 


There’s a great deal of warmth between the crews, as smiles, waves and greetings are exchanged. Most of the NATO ships we encounter have their own photographers, taking pictures of us in return!


 NATO 10
 ATL Dutch Sailors

We spend the next several hours escorting ships, until we’ve seen vessels from eight different countries, including: Canada, Britain, America, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway and Denmark. 

Some crews interact more than others, like these two Dutch sailors who having fun for the camera!


 ATL Kelsie

With the fleet docked and secure, it’s time to head back to the tug base in Dartmouth, and Kelsie takes a short break to relax on the deck. 



I disembark to write my account, but the crew will take off again in an hour to assist two more ships – a container ship and a cruise ship. For seafarers working with Atlantic Towing’s harbour fleet, no two days are ever the same. They live on the tugs for their two-week shifts, eating meals together and working to ensure vessels of all kinds make it safely in and out of the port.