Bass Strait

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Map of Australia with Bass Strait marked in light blue

Bass Strait (pronounced /ˈbæs/) is a sea strait separating Tasmania from the south of the Australian mainland, specifically the state of Victoria.


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Bass Strait as follows:[1]

On the West. The Eastern limit of the Great Australian Bight [A line from Cape Otway, Australia, to King Island and thence to Cape Grim, the Northwest extreme of Tasmania].

On the East. The Western limit of the Tasman Sea between Gabo Island and Eddystone Point [A line from Gabo Island (near Cape Howe, 37°30'S) to the Northeast point of East Sister Island (148°E) thence along the 148th meridian to Flinders Island; beyond this Island a line running to the Eastward of the Vansittart Shoals to [Cape] Barren Island, and from Cape Barren (the Easternmost point of [Cape] Barren Island) to Eddystone Point (41°S) in Tasmania].

Discovery and exploration

The strait was named after George Bass in 1800, after he and Matthew Flinders passed through it while circumnavigating Tasmania in the Norfolk in 1798–99. Governor Hunter subsequently named the stretch of water between the mainland and Van Diemen's Land (at Flinders' recommendations) "Basses Strait". Later it became known as Bass Strait.[2]

The existence of the strait had already been suggested by the master of the Sydney Cove when he reached Sydney (after he grounded his ship and being stranded) on Preservation Island. He reported that the strong south westerly swell and the tides and currents suggested that the island was in a channel linking the Pacific and southern Indian Ocean. The Governor of New South Wales, John Hunter thus wrote to Joseph Banks in August 1797 that it seemed certain the strait existed.[3]


Approximately 240 km wide at its narrowest point and generally around 50 metres deep, it contains many islands, with King Island and Flinders Island home to substantial human settlements.

Like the rest of the waters surrounding Tasmania, and particularly because of its limited depth, it is notoriously rough, with many ships lost there during the 19th century. A lighthouse was erected on Deal Island in 1848 to assist ships in the eastern part of the Straits, but there were no guides to the western entrance until the Wilsons Promontory Lighthouse was completed in 1859, followed by another at Cape Wickham at the northern end of King Island in 1861.

Maritime history

Strong currents between the Antarctic-driven southeast portions of the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea's Pacific Ocean waters provide a strait of powerful, wild storm waves. To illustrate its wild strength, Bass Strait is both twice as wide and twice as rough as the English Channel. The shipwrecks on the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines number in the hundreds, although stronger metal ships and modern marine navigation have dropped the danger sharply.

Many vessels, some quite large, have disappeared without trace, or left scant evidence of their passing. Despite myths and legends of piracy, wrecking and alleged supernatural phenomena akin to those of the Bermuda Triangle, such disappearances can be invariably ascribed to treacherous combinations of wind and sea conditions, and the numerous semi-submerged rocks and reefs within the Straits.[4]

Despite the strait's difficult waters it provided a safer and less boisterous passage for ships on the route from Europe or India to Sydney in the early 19th century. The strait also saved 700 miles distance on the voyage.[3]


Map of Bass Strait including major island groups

There are over 50 islands in Bass Strait. Major islands include:

Western section:

South eastern section:

North eastern section:

Natural resources

See also: Energy in Victoria

A number of oil and gas fields exist in Bass Strait. The eastern field, known as the Gippsland Basin, was discovered in the 1960s and is located about 50 km off the coast of Gippsland. The oil and gas is sent via a pipeline to gas processing facilities and oil refineries at Longford, Western Port, Altona and Geelong, as well as by tanker to New South Wales. The western field, known as the Otway Basin, was discovered in the 1990s offshore near Port Campbell. Its exploitation began in 2005.


Burnie CBD and Port from Wilfred Campbell Memorial Reserve with Bass Strait behind


Major infrastructure connections between Tasmania and Victoria.

The fastest and cheapest method of travel across Bass Strait is by air. The main carriers are Qantas, JetStar, and Virgin Blue. Major airports include the Hobart International Airport and Launceston Airport; the smaller airports are serviced by Regional Express which generally flies only to Melbourne and the Bass Strait islands.

The domestic sea route is serviced by two Spirit of Tasmania passenger vehicle ferries, based in Devonport, Tasmania. The ships travel daily in opposite directions between Devonport and Station Pier in Melbourne, as overnight trips with additional daytime trips during the peak summer season.

See Transportation in Tasmania for more details.


See also: Basslink

The Basslink HVDC electrical cable has been in service since 2006. It has the capacity to carry up to 630 Megawatts of electrical power across the strait.

Alinta owns a submarine gas pipeline, delivering natural gas to large industrial customers near George Town, as well as the Powerco gas network in Tasmania.


Amphitrite on 1936 stamp commemorating completion of cable

The first submarine communications cable across Bass Strait was laid in 1859. Starting at Cape Otway, Victoria, it went via King Island and Three Hummock Island, made contact with the Tasmanian mainland at Stanley Head, and then continued on to George Town. However it started failing within a few weeks of completion, and by 1861 it failed completely.

Tasmania is currently connected to the mainland via two Telstra-operated fibre optic cables; since 2006, dark fibre capacity has also been available on the Basslink HVDC cable.

Other submarine cables include:

Date Northern end Southern end Companies
(Manufacturer / Operator)
1859–1861 Cape Otway Stanley Head Henley's Telegraph Works
Tas & Vic Govts
System 140 nm
1869-? ? ? Henley's Telegraph Works
Australian Govt
System 176 nm
1885-? ? ? Telcon
Australian Government
1909–1943 ? ? Siemens Bros
Australian Government
System 285 nm.
Was reused at Torres Strait
1936 Apollo Bay Stanley Siemens Bros
Australian Government
First telephone cable, failed after only six months[5]
1995- Sandy Point Boat Harbour ASN
First fibre optic cable
2003- Inverloch Stanley ASN Calais
2005- Loy Yang Bell Bay Basslink First electrical distribution cable

Popular culture

See also Bass Strait Triangle

The issue of planes, and ships and people being lost in the Strait over time has caused a number of theories about the reasons. Perhaps the most thorough list of losses and disappearances has been the oft re-printed book of Jack Loney [6] however it is possible that most losses can be adequately explained by extreme weather events.[7]

On the popular Australian soap Neighbours, one of its most dramatic storylines unfolded when a 1940s themed joy flight to Tasmania was sabotaged by a bomb. The plane crashed into Bass Strait in the middle of the night and many character's lives were put at risk, with some drowning.

In 1978, one of the most famous UFO incidents in Australian history occurred over Bass Strait. Frederick Valentich was flying a small aeroplane over the strait when he reported to personnel at a local airport that a strange object was buzzing his plane. He then claimed that the object had moved directly in front of his plane; the airport personnel then heard a metallic "scraping" sound, followed by silence. Valentich and his plane subsequently vanished and neither Valentich nor his plane were ever seen again.


Non-motorised crossings are regularly attempted across the strait.

Australian Olympic Bronze Medallist Michael Blackburn sailed a Laser Sailboat across the strait in October 2005.[8]

This crossing is also made semi-regularly by experienced sea kayakers, usually by island hopping on the Eastern side of the strait.[9][10][11]

The first windsurfer crossing was in 1982 by Mark Paul and Les Tokolyi.[12] Kite boarders also do the crossing.[13]


  1. "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition". International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  2. Flinders, Matthew (1814). A Voyage to Terra Australis
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blainey, Geoffrey (1966). Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History. Melbourne: Sun Books. pp. 73–4. 
  4. See section below Popular Culture and also Bass Strait Triangle for further detail
  5. "Apollo Bay Submarine Cable Repeater Station". Register of the National Estate. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  6. Jack Loney, Mysteries of the Bass Strait Triangle, Neptune Press, 1st ed. 1980. 3rd ed. 1984 5th ed. 1993 (ISBN 0-9091315-3-8) and later editions
  7. Spirit of Tasmania I section regarding 2005 event asa good example
  12. The Sun May 5th, 1982[Full citation needed]

External links

Further reading

  • Broxam and Nash, Tasmanian Shipwrecks, Volumes I and II, Navarine Publishing, Canberra, 1998 & 2000.

Coordinates: 39°56′09″S 146°04′52″E / 39.93583°S 146.08111°E / -39.93583; 146.08111

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