Embattled BP chief executive Tony Hayward is at the centre of a new controversy today after he went sailing in the UK despite mounting criticism that he is not doing enough to control the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The White House led hostile comment after he spent time relaxing on the Isle of Wight at the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.
A yacht named Bob that is co-owned by Mr Hayward was taking part in yesterday’s event.
The crisis that followed the blast on the Deepwater Horizon well, which killed 11 workers, has seen millions of gallons of oil continuing to threaten the Gulf Coast. It is America’s worst environmental disaster and led to tensions between the US administration and BP.
President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said Mr Hayward committed yet another in a “long line of PR gaffes” by attending the race while the disaster continued.
Rahm Emanuel mocked Mr Hayward’s notorious statement on Facebook that he wished the crisis were over so he could have his life back.
Referring to the yachting, Mr Emanuel told ABC television’s This Week: “He’s got his life back, as he would say.”
Mr Emanuel said the focus should stay on capping the leaking well and helping the people of the Gulf region.
Hugh Walding, coordinator of the Isle of Wight Friends of the Earth, said Mr Hayward deserved all the criticism he was getting over his failure to control the spill.
He said: “I’m sure that this will be seen as yet another public relations disaster for him from people who have got exceedingly upset about this whole thing.
“Personally I don’t think that the bloke is particularly competent from the results that he has delivered. He obviously doesn’t have the technical know-how but he should at least be managing the image of the company better.”
Charlie Kronick, of Greenpeace, said Mr Hayward’s actions were “rubbing salt into the wounds” of people whose communities are affected by the catastrophe.
He said: “The whole process has been a disaster but what is far worse is that BP’s recklessness caused the accident in the first place.
“What has happened in the Gulf of Mexico is as a result of Hayward’s own agenda to go for the marginal, unconventional barrels of oil.
“If that’s what they are going to do, by walking so closely to the edge, then one day they are going to fall over it.
“Clearly it is incredibly insulting for him to be sailing in the Isle of Wight but the fact is that him being there hasn’t stopped the leak.
“It is a disaster in every sense but what it has done is given Obama, for the first time in his presidency, the chance to change the approach to oil and energy in general.”
A company spokeswoman said: “We wouldn’t dream of commenting on what the chief executive does in his rare moments of private time.”
She said he was spending some time with his son.
It is understood Mr Hayward has spent much of the last eight weeks in the United States since the accident occurred.
Company officials insisted Mr Hayward is still in charge of the operation to control the spill amid confusion over his role,
On Friday, company chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said Mr Hayward had been relieved of day-to-day control of the spill and that BP managing director Bob Dudley would take over.
However, other BP officials insisted Mr Hayward remained in charge of the operation.
The company previously announced that Mr Dudley would lead the long-term response once the leak had been stopped.
Latest estimates suggest 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day are continuing to pour from the ruptured well.
A company spokeswoman said yesterday: “Until the acute part of this crisis is over, until the leak is capped, Tony Hayward is still very much in charge in the response to this crisis.”
Amid mounting anger in the US the company has set up a $20bn (€16bn) compensation fund and scrapped shareholder dividends until the end of the year.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Svanberg defended Mr Hayward, who was accused by the US Congress on Thursday of “stone-walling” and failing to adequately answer questions.
“Now we are in an investigation and we are facing many, many trials and discussions of what went wrong and it would be wrong to go into those discussions before everything is on the table,” said Mr Svanberg.
Mr Hayward also angered America and was forced to apologise with his Facebook comment that he “wanted my life back” following the explosion.
The chairman said: “... It is clear that Tony has made remarks that have upset people but he is also a man who has probably been on 100 hours of TV time and maybe 500.”
The oil collection operation hit a problem yesterday when the ship Discoverer Enterprise had to shut down because of a technical problem.
A BP spokesman said it was linked to a small fire a few days ago, probably caused by a lightning strike, which caused a temporary shutdown then.
The Enterprise was restarted after a 10-hour shutdown. There was a delay in restarting because of a lightning storm in the area.
Other operations to deal with the spill were unaffected.