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updated 6/21/2010 4:22:39 PM ET 2010-06-21T20:22:39

Environmental activists said Monday that an oil spill off the coast of Egypt's Red Sea is continuing even after the government said it had been contained, leaving turtles and sea birds covered in oil.

Government spokesman Magdy Rady told the state news agency Monday that the spill, which began last week, was "limited" and has now largely been contained. It was one of the first government acknowledgments that the spill was even taking place.

An environmental group based in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada told the Associated Press that the government was trying to cover up the extent of the damage and the leak had restarted.

"Just today I received news that the oil had started leaking again this afternoon after it had stopped Thursday," said Ahmed el-Droubi, a biologist with the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association.

Founded by divers in 1992, HEPCA has been sounding the alarm about the spill, which it says has damaged environmentally sensitive areas.

"The northern islands protected area is very heavily impacted," said el-Droubi. "This area is very important because it is the last pristine spot, there is a lot of sea life there that will be harmed ... there are dead birds and dead sea turtles scattered across the island covered in oil."

Oil company officials in the port city of Suez said the spill was caused by a leak from an offshore oil platform in Jebel al-Zayt north of Hurghada and has polluted about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of coastline including tourist beach resorts. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Hurghada is one of Egypt's top tourist destinations and was once major diving site with extensive coral reefs, though over the past decades extensive development has caused some deterioration.

The government kept quiet about the leak for days. The silence could be a sign of concern that it might scare away tourists — a vital source of income for Egypt.

Mahmoud Ismail, the head of the environmental crisis department, said the impact on most of the beaches has been minimal and the clean up would be done in a few days, though he admitted the situation was worse on the islands.

"The hardest work will be cleaning up the coral and Tawila Island, the beaches will be cleaned up in a few days," he said, adding that he had few complaints from local hotels.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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