08/12/2011 19:29 GMT

Oil Spill Penguins Head Back To New Zealand Beach (PHOTOS)

Penguins caught in an oil spill when container ship Renaleaked 350 tonnes of oil off the east coast of New Zealand have been released back into the ocean.

The tuxedoed seabirds had a happy ending as they waddled playfully towards the sea.

The blue-eyed totterers had a lucky escape: the oil spillage killed more than 2,000 birds in November 2011, when Rena struck a reef near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand's north island.

Sea birds try to clean themselves after their feathers become coated with oil but are often poisoned. They can be blinded or oil can enter their lungs and stomach.

For these frolicking chicks, the oil spill is a lifetime away. They have been cleaned and fitted with microchips so they can be monitored once out at sea.

A penguin at Tauranga wildlife centre before they were released back to sea

New Zealand's environment minister Nick Smith described it as the country's most serious maritime environmental disaster after the incident at the beginning of October.

The clean-up is ongoing, with salvors heading to the scene to try and tow the container ship off the reef.

A statement from the Greek owners of container ship Rena said: "Our insurers are working closely with the salvors and will be paying for the costs of removing the oil from the vessel. Our insurers will also continue to pay for the costs of salving the cargo and the vessel."