Four experts from Dutch company Smit Salvage managed to attach a towline to the Modern Express, which ran into trouble on Tuesday and had floated to within 44 kilometres of the French coast in the Bay of Biscay.
The Centaurus tugboat started pulling it away from land and officials said that, if the line held, it would be taken to a port of refuge in either France or Spain, although which one had yet to be decided.
But rough seas could still snap the line, they warned.
The Modern Express was carrying diggers and 3,600 tonnes of timber from Gabon to the French Channel port of Le Havre but had relatively little fuel in its tanks.
Five boats were involved in the operation to prevent it drifting onto the French coast.