Phillip Island's Little Penguin colonies are potentially at risk. Photo: Supplied
Phillip Island's famous fairy penguins and other precious wildlife in Western Port would face serious threat from an oil spill at the Port of Hastings - set to become Australia's next major container dock under state government plans.
Simulations by consultants Asia-Pacific Applied Science Associates have found a high probability that spilt oil would spread widely and quickly across Western Port's globally recognised waters, in some conditions reaching protected conservation areas in hours.
In scenarios involving a spill of 200 metric tonnes of heavy fuel oil, it was found over 80 per cent would wash up on shore around Western Port, Phillip Island and French Island, over a period of a few days to a few weeks.
Victoria's marine emblem, the weedy seadragon. Photo: Mark Norman / Museum Victoria
The first traces of oil could reach some local shore lines within minutes.
Heavy fuel oil spilt at Long Island Jetty Point or McHaffie's Reef in Western Port would hit marine and land protected areas, such as the Phillip Island Nature Park, within six hours in the right wind conditions, leaving little time for shore line protection.
The Napthine government has committed $110 million for design and planning work towards expansion of the Port of Hastings.
A globe fish in Westernport Bay. Photo: Mark Norman / Museum Victoria
The government is pursuing a new port because a six-fold surge in container trade is expected by 2050 and the Port of Melbourne will reach capacity about 2027.
The oil spill modelling analysed six different scenarios based on location, season, and what type and how much fuel is released.
It was not based on an oil tanker spill, rather heavy transport oil and diesel used as fuel in container ships and support vessels. The work - backed by on water tests - did not consider the likelihood of a spill occuring in Western Port, or the environmental damage. Australia has had 27 oil spills from shipping in the last 43 years.
Despite a history of industry in some areas, Western Port is internationally recognised for its spectacular natural values. The bay is protected under the Ramsar Convention, the international wetland treaty. Three marine parks, a national park and other conservation areas are in or around the bay.
Western Port is home to 1350 marine species, including one of Victoria's state emblems - the weedy seadragon.
''The spill modelling indicated that oil spilled under any of the spill scenarios has a high probability of spreading widely throughout the estuary system,'' the report says.
Conservationists are calling for a full public inquiry, under national environment law, into the risks posed by increased shipping and potential dredging to expand the port.
The modelling was commissioned by the Victorian National Parks Association and the Western Port and Peninsula Protection Council.
A state government spokesman said the green group's claims were unnecessarily alarmist given Hastings had operated as a commercial port for nearly two centuries and had handled crude oil since 1970 without incident.
Coalition environment spokesman and member for Flinders, Greg Hunt said: ''Any possible project is some years away. Every party has agreed that the pre-requisite would be a full environmental impact statement.''