On Sunday 17 January 1954 shortly before 5.00pm RFA Wave Victor was sailing down the Bristol Channel in ballast from Swansea to Fawley, near Southampton. At 5.24pm she radioed she was on fire in the engine room. Five minutes later the message was that the fire was out of control and at 5.37pm the message changed to ‘Preparing to abandon ship’.
HMS Carisbrooke Castle and tugs from Swansea, Milford Haven, Pembroke, Falmouth and Plymouth put to sea towards the disabled vessel. Some of the tugs carried fire fighting equipment while the ‘Nirumand’ from Swansea took a fire-fighting crew of six from the Swansea fire brigade.
The tanker was about nine miles off Ilfracombe and people walking on the coast could see smoke pouring from her. Lifeboats from Appledore, Minehead and Ilfracombe were launched.
The ships Master, Captain F C Holt, several officers and members of the crew elected to stay on board. The remainder took to the lifeboats but when there was a danger of the bunkers exploding the Captain and those left onboard were taken off by the Appledore lifeboat.
The sea was fairly calm but rescue vessels had to work on the starboard side of the tanker, as flames were billowing over the port side aft.
The tanker was abandoned and was drifting in the Bristol Channel. The Appledore lifeboat was ordered to stand by to warn other shipping, as it was thought that the tanker would explode.
There was no explosion and the Captain and volunteers from the crew and the fire-fighters re-boarded the vessel and eventually extinguished the fire.
The ship was towed back to Swansea and eventually was taken, again under tow, to North Eastern Marine, Wallsend on Tyne for repair.