In this photo provided by Maritime New Zealand, one half of the cargo ship Rena sinks on a reef near Tauranga.

Wellington - Forty-five seabirds covered with oil leaking from a ship that ran aground on a New Zealand reef have been found dead since it began breaking up in a storm at the weekend, officials said on Thursday.

Ten little blue penguins have been taken to a wildlife centre to be cleaned, said the Maritime New Zealand agency, which is supervising salvage of the Rena.

More than 2,000 seabirds died when the ship spilled about 360 tons of oil after running aground as it headed to the North Island port of Tauranga on October 5.

Oil spill response teams worked Thursday at two islands and beaches at Mount Maunganui, 20 kilometres from Tauranga.

An aerial observation flight confirmed a dark metallic sheen of oil about 600 metres by 200 metres within a larger lighter sheen stretching about 10 kilometres from the wreck, the agency said.

It said these patches of oil appeared to be breaking down naturally in a sea swell producing waves of up to 3 metres around the ship, which is in two pieces with most of the stern below the water.

The agency said computer modelling predicted oil was likely to reach more beaches Friday, and protective booms were installed at three places.

Salvage divers were on standby to assess the condition of the submerged stern, which contains about 400 containers of goods, when conditions improve.

“The current sea state, combined with the dangerous state of the wreck, is preventing dive operations at this stage,” the agency said. - Sapa-dpa