New Zealand Oil Spill: Animals Caught In The Aftermath (PICTURES)

14/10/2011 14:13 BST | Updated 14/12/2011 10:12 GMT

More than 350 tonnes of oil has leaked into the sea around New Zealand from a ship that ran aground, according to government officials.

The vessel, which struck a reef, has created the country's worst maritime environmental disaster, the New Zealand Environment Minister said.

The Rena is stuck 12 nautical miles off the coast of the North Island at Tauranga. The hull is cracked, which means that the ship could disintegrate at any time.

Authorities have told residents to stay away from the shore and to avoid touching the oil as it is believed to be toxic.

Animals are being washed up on the shore covered in oil. More than 1,000 birds are believed to have died.

The ship's owner, Costamare Shipping Inc, addressed the local community, apologising for "the threat you are now facing from fuel oil from the vessel washing up on the beaches in your beautiful part of the world".

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