There is something mysterious about a shipwreck that haunts the imagination. No? The once glorious vessels that sailed the oceans lie broken on the sea floor. I begin to image the horrifying moment when the ship must have gone down. There is an exciting or tragic history behind every shipwreck. In fact, many shipwrecks are a part of the underwater ‘cultural heritage’ because of their important archaeological significance. And once you go down to explore one, all you see is not wreck. Shipwrecks create an artificial reef habitat extremely rich on marine life. In fact, some of the coolest reefs are actually wrecks that have been transformed by marine life into amazing underwater habitats. So, if you have a curious mind and a streak of adventure, ship wreck diving is an experience you MUST NOT miss.
The first time I planned a Shipwreck dive it was to the steamer ‘SS Casino’ lying at Apollo Bay in the state of Victoria, Australia. SS Casino had carried cargo and passengers between Melbourne and Portland for 50 years. After 2500 voyages in treacherous waters it was called immortal, until it was not. I was so pumped to see this legend myself but weather played spoilsport. It rained incessantly and diving was impossible for the 2 days that I spent in the area. After coming back from Australia. I made it my mission to find the closest shipwreck to me and go have a peep.
To my delight I discovered the Tulamben Bay. Tulamben is a small fishing village located in North-East Bali, Tulamben is part of the the richest marine bio-geographic zone in the world. The history of the United States Army Transport ship – USAT Liberty was enough to trigger my tickets to Bali. The USAT Liberty lived a long and grand life. A US Army ship built in 1918, The USAT Liberty served as transport ship during World War I, during peacetime, and later again during World War II! It was torpedoed (blown up) by a Japanese submarine in 1942 as it was passing through in a convoy of ships taking supplies from Australia to the Philippines. Fortunately there were no casualties and all the crew were safely evacuated. The USAT Liberty was beached (remained on the beach) for another 21 years.
Even as it was rusting in the sun everyday, it was a source of hardware to the local villagers and a fishing platform into the deeper waters of Tulamben Bay. That was until 1963, when the rumbling volcano Mount Agung exploded – pouring rivers of lava down it’s slopes. The resulting earthquakes rolled the USAT Liberty down the slope, off of the beach and into the water. Today, the wreck of the USAT Liberty is found at a maximum depth of about 100 feet. The highest area of the wreck though, is only about 13 feet below the surface, making it really easy to access even by snorkelers! No wonder, it is a very popular diving spot and tends to get way too crowded in the morning hours. (All the photos here onwards were taken by me or my diving buddy with SJCAMM (SJ5000) action camera. It’s a rip-off of GoPro, that I bought for roughly USD 100.)
The ship is standing at 90 degrees to the ocean floor so you can’t look at the whole structure of the ship at once. But because it stands so tall, it is much closer to the surface of water and hence very accessible.
The incredibly colourful marine life looks stunning against the backdrop of the black sand beneath. There are over 400 species of fish. From minute Anglerfish, neon Nudibranchs to Ghostpipefish and shrimp/Goby sets. You can Garden Eels and multi-coloured clouds of Anthias and Damsels, the resident Great Barracuda, Giant groupers, Batfish and schools of Sweetlips, Fusiliers, Butterflyfish – the variety is amazing. Since you (obviously) cannot talk underwater, I read up about the fish found at the dive spot and could match at least 70 percent of the names to the fish I saw.
Then there are the invertebrates, the hard and soft Corals, Black Corals, Sponges with Crinoids, Sea fans, Tunicates
– the list goes on.
The following is my favourite capture from the trip. I almost always get lost in these wonders and forget to click at the right time but thankfully my diving buddy was a diligent photographer.
It seems the fish are quite used to divers to the extent that the Goatfish and Wrasse welcome you by nibbling around your feet at the entry points. Well I heard that but honestly did not notice it. But I did realise the human-friendliness of these Surgeonfish. They accompanied us for most of the dive and also photobombed many of our pictures 🙂
I have always been fascinated with the surreality of the deep blue sea. My first dive at Havelock in Andaman & Nicobar islands was the beginning of a lifelong love. After that I dived a couple of times in the amazing islands of Thailand, I cage dived to see sharks in Gansbaai (South Africa), swam with turtles in the Great barrier reef (Australia). Each experience has formed a lifelong memory but a large scoop of history the USAT Liberty gave was unmatchable. Realising that what we call a ‘wreck’ has created such a large marine family reminds me of why I travel. To see the world from so many eyes. There is a whole world down in the sea, and I am itching to explore.
And, if the USAT Liberty shipwreck dive has made it to your itch list: Tulamben is in the north-east of Bali, about 3 hours drive from Bali (Dempsar) airport. While you probably can manage a day trip, I strongly advice you to spend a couple of days in Tulamben/ Amed. The USAT Liberty Wreck is not the only amazing dive site around the Tulamben area. There are many diving sites such as the Tulamben wall, Coral Garden, Kusu each has its own uniqueness and charm. Take the plunge!
Story by Smriti