USAT Liberty, one of the best wrecks in the world

USAT Liberty wreck
Clownfish on one of the many anemones of the Liberty. Image courtesy of Doug Anderson

Wreck diving is always an extraordinary experience, a mixture of adventure and excitement. You are in front of an artificial element created by the human being that has been colonized by the underwater life, decorating it and making it a home and refuge. If that ship keeps an exciting history of struggle, war and battles behind it, the wreck acquires even more value.

If, on top of that, the proliferation of life is so extraordinary that it leaves you open-mouthed, diving through it is easy and its access is safe, then we have a first class wreck. This is the case of the USAT Liberty wreck of Tulamben.

The beginnings of the USAT LIberty

USAT Liberty was a U.S. Navy freighter torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in January 1942, during World War II, and washed ashore off the island of Bali, Indonesia. The ship, launched on 19th June 1918 by the Federal Shipbuilding Company and acquired by the U.S. Navy on 7th October 1918, was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service during WWI. She transported both animals for the war effort (mainly horses) and other types of goods to be shipped to France. After the first Great War, the USAT Liberty continued to perform cargo duties until the entry of the United States into World War II.

USAT Liberty freighter
USAT Liberty freighter in its best moments

In December 1941 the USAT Liberty became part of the American war machine. Sent in the detachment destined to the Pacific war for supply work, in January 1942, en route from Australia to the Philippines with a cargo of railroad parts and rubber. The Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-166 about 10 nautical miles southwest of the Lombok Strait. The ship, which was not sunk but seriously damaged, was towed to try to bring it to the port of Singaraja, on the north coast of Bali, then belonging to the Netherlands. The amount of water entering through the damaged hull made it impossible to tow it any further, stranding it on the coast of Tulamben, northeast of Bali, to try to save the cargo.

For more than 20 years the ship was stranded on the surface of the beach until 1963. The tremors caused by the eruption of the sacred Mount Agung slid the ship off the beach creating an underwater paradise that is visited by hundreds of divers a year.

Today the Liberty lies on a sandy slope between 9 and 30 meters and, after almost 50 years underwater, in perfect conditions for marine life, it has been filled with soft and hard corals, huge sponges and hundreds of fish that colonize this beautiful wreck.

THE GREATEST BIODIVERSITY YOU CAN FIND ON A SHIPWRECK

humphead Parrotfish
Humphead parrotfish group patrolling the Liberty. Image courtesy of ©Kim Yusuf ©Kim Yusuf

The Liberty doesn’t receive strong currents and the dive starts at only 9 meters deep, making it suitable for all diving levels. Diving in this piece of World War II history gives us the possibility to dive with more than 400 species of fish and 100 species of pelagics that flock to this ship throughout the year. The 120 meters length of the wreck, which usually has a visibility of more than 20 meters, is overloaded with soft and hard corals, huge barrel sponges, anemones or gorgonians fighting for the little free space left in the steel of the ship. The surroundings of the wreck are not to be missed either, with garden eels emerging from the sandy bottom, giant clams or sharks flying overhead.

USAT Liberty wreck plan
USAT Liberty wreck plan

It is an ideal wreck for open waters but also of great value for the most experienced divers. Among the jewels that we can find in this wreck are the huge humphead parrotfish and that appear in groups, sweetlips, beautiful nudibranchs, eagle rays patrolling the bottom, dozens of frogfish of all types and sizes, clown triggerfish, the poisonous lionfish, pygmy seahorses, huge sunfish very common in Bali, groupers, schools of barracuda, clownfish dancing in the numerous anemones that have colonized the wreck …. the list is enormous and the life is overwhelming. 

This wreck is a jewel, a gift for naturalists, underwater photographers, night diving and wreck diving enthusiasts. One of the best wrecks in the world… possibly. 

WHERE IS THE USAT LIBERTY WRECK?

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