Some Sydney beaches have been closed with plastic strewn across the sand after about 40 shipping containers fell off a cargo ship headed to Melbourne.

Five 12-metre shipping containers from the Singapore-flagged vessel APL England were found locked together in a row at Birdie Beach near Norah Head on Wednesday.

Another five containers, also locked together, have been sighted by aircraft off Terrigal on the Central Coast, NSW Maritime acting executive director Alex Barrell said.

A single floating container has also been spotted off Wollongong.

“We have had our staff working around the clock to attend reported locations of debris on our beaches and NSW Maritime has today appointed two contractors to lead the collection, with a workforce of 60 people. This is expected to increase as more debris comes ashore,” Mr Barrell said in a statement.

Medical face masks, flexible ducting and yellow foam have washed up on beaches from Catherine Hill Bay south to Wollongong.

Randwick City Council made the decision to close its beaches for a clean-up on Wednesday.

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“Our beaches will remain closed until further notice and people are strongly encouraged not to enter the water due to the risk of larger submerged items still in the surf,” the council said on its Facebook page.

“Material is expected to continue washing up over the coming days.”

A video posted by the council shows workers picking up plastic take-away food- style containers on Malabar Beach.

Mr Barrell said 21 of the containers lost at sea are empty, while the ship’s manifest indicates there are no dangerous or hazardous goods among the container contents.

The cargo contains bar stools, food dehydrators, medical face masks, shields and goggles, furniture, range hoods, gazebos and cat furniture, a NSW Maritime statement said.

APL England has docked at the Port of Brisbane after losing about 40 shipping containers on Sunday in rough seas off the NSW coast.

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It will undergo a further inspection by maritime safety authorities.

AAP