The Liberty Wreck
Contributed by Andy Taylor
Standing here on the cobbled stone beach of Tulamben Bay, Bali its hard to
believe that just 40 meters from the beach below these calm blue waters lies
one of the best and safest wreck dives to be found anywhere in the world. The
wreck of the US Liberty is probably the most famous and popular dive site in
all of Bali and for good reason, not only is their a 120 meter wreck just off
the beach but it is swarming with tame and curious marine life.
But first before we dive, a little history about how this magnificent wreck
comes to be laying so perfectly for us divers to enjoy.
The Liberty was a freighter conscripted into war time service carrying war materials
from Australia to aid the allied effort in the Philippines. Traveling as part
of a convoy of ships through the Lombok Strait it was torpedoed by the Japanese
submarine I-166 in the early hours of January 11th 1942. Although badly crippled
the Liberty remained afloat and was taken under toe by two accompanying destroyers
in an effort to get it to Singaraja where it was hoped it could be repaired.
The Liberty was taking on too much water and was eventually beached in Tulamben
bay where it sat for the next twenty years. Then in 1963 the highest and most
holy of all mountains in Bali, Gunung Agung erupted causing powerful earthquakes
that rolled the beached ship to her final resting place below the calm waters
of Tulamben Bay.
Today over 40 years after the Liberty was pushed below the seas she has become
a heaven for a vast diversity of marine life and a simply breath taking dive
experience to be enjoyed by all levels of divers. Having enjoyed wreck diving
myself for many years in the UK I am well versed to having to travel hours by
boat into deep and cold waters to experience the thrill of a wreck and if your
see any fish it’s a bonus! Well the Liberty is wreck diving as it should
be, no boat needed just a simple swim but meters from the shore and there she
lies and fish life! You just have to see it to believe it!
you have waddled into the water over the cobbled stone shallows and now you
descend a couple of meters and slowly start to swim down the black sand slope.
The stones give way to the dark sands at about 5 meters and then the greeting
party of fish charge forward as if the dinner bell has been sounded. The Wrasse
and Goatfish fight for your attention with the larger Rudder and Surgeon fish
all keen to seek out any food you disturb from the sea floor with your fins.
These fish have hosted more divers than all the PADI dive shops in Bali over
the years and friendly or tame is an understatement to describe the welcome
you receive from these marine creatures.
Once you run the gauntlet of the welcome party you notice the tens of whip
like Sand eels swaying in unison about 50cm out of their borrows. Then as you
get closer to them they retreat effortlessly back to their dens leaving not
a trace of the garden of eels you witnessed but seconds before.
As you reach 8 – 10 meters there before you stands the dark shape you
the wreck, 120 meters of twisted coral encrusted steal laying in some of the
most accessible and fertile waters in the entire Indo- Pacific. For me one of
the best things about the wreck is the sheer numbers of near tame fish to be
found making the wreck their home. Sweetlips lay close to the sand in just 8
meters of water, unicornfish, batfish, angle fish and huge schools of big eyed
jack swirl around you during the dive. It gets to be difficult with a camera
to focus of one subject without others trying to push into the frame and have
their picture taken as well. If you are bringing a camera make it a digital
and have plenty of memory because this is one dive you do not want to run out
of shots on, there is so much to film diving the Liberty.
Once you round the stern of the ship you notice the large gorgonians, brightly
colored soft corals and sponges covering most every surface of the wreck. Cruising
the deep seaward side of the wreck you can look up and see the silhouettes of
thousand of fish hovering above you, if you’re lucky you may meet the
Giant Napoleon Wrasse and Bump-head Wrasse that have made this their home. As
you enter the cargo hold of the ship look up and see the ball of schooling big
eyed jacks and possible the biggest Barracuda you will every come across eyeing
you with his big toothy grin. Look to the many crevasses and holes and you may
see a pair of large potato Cod or giant grouper hiding, the stunning electric
blue colors of the Emperor Angle fish majestically weaving their way through
if you can pull your eyes away from the array of marine life swimming over the
wreck and take a closer look another world of weird and wonderful marine life
awaits your attention. Here is where an experienced dive guide is a must, he
will be able to find and point out the most well camouflaged critters that you
may simply drift on past. The many and varied colored nudibranches, the ever
illusive Ghost Pipefish, grumpy looking Frogfish waddle with their fins like
legs across the steel encrusted hull of the liberty. Lionfish hover gracefully
with their outstretched feather like spines waiting to pounce with lightening
speed on an unsuspecting pray that ventures too close. We have only just scraped
the surface of the many and varied critters that have made this wreck home,
I can honestly say that not matter how many times I have dived the Liberty I
always find something new to see on every dive.
If you want to really take in
the wonders of the Liberty join us for a weekend dive safari in Tulamben and
try a night dive on the wreck where another shift of night dwellers come out
to play. The wreck of the Liberty is probably one of the only wrecks in the
world that you can safely explore at night and with a full moon above it is
something you will never forget.