The Liberty Wreck

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!

Big-eye Trevally, Tulamben Bay, BaliSo 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 the wreck.

Barracuda at cleaning station, Tulamben Bay, BaliNow 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.

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