BP boss is labelled 'idiotic'
But some hope of leak containment as oil siphoned into ship
BRITISH OIL giant BP reported that it was collecting at least some of the crude spewing from its crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico as an increasingly frustrated President Barack Obama arrived for a third visit to the region.
Meanwhile, the governor of Louisiana blasted the company's chief executive for making "idiotic" statements.
Pressure bore down on BP from all sides with news that parts of the oil slick had for the first time arrived in Pensacola, Florida, where tourist brochures boast of the "world's whitest beaches".
New computer models predicted that the slick would curl around southern Florida soon and travel very swiftly into the Atlantic. Media outlets also showed sickening images of sea birds so drenched in oil that they were barely able to move.
Early yesterday, top executives at BP attempted to reassure investors. Tony Hayward, the CEO, insisted that the company still had "considerable firepower" to cover the financial fallout, even while acknowledging that it would be "severe" and long lasting.
In the first conference call with analysts since the April 20 explosion, BP offered no firm guidance on plans for dividend payments to shareholders.
Some American political leaders have called for dividend payments to be suspended. The impact of such a step would be felt widely, not least in Britain, where BP is a cornerstone stock of millions of pension plans.
After a week in which he was caught out for making strikingly inappropriate remarks about the crisis, Mr Hayward may not have helped himself by saying to analysts that he remained "unscathed", despite being a "lightning rod".
Oddest of all, he offered: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me -- or however the phrase goes."
Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, let fly at Mr Hayward.
"These are some of the most idiotic statements I've ever heard," he said. "I'd wonder about trusting a multi-billion company to somebody who makes those statements."
BP said last night that Mr Hayward "enjoys the full and explicit support of the board".
There was some hope for BP from its latest sea-bed operations to quell the leak. Doug Suttles, its chief operating officer, reported that following the placement overnight of a containment 'top hat' over the leak, oil was being siphoned into a ship above at the rate of 1,000 barrels a day.
While that is only a fraction of the 19,000 barrels that may be escaping from the well each day, BP hopes that the rate of flow from the cap could yet be significantly increased.
It remains unlikely, however, that BP will be able to staunch the leaks entirely until August when -- weather and notably hurricanes permitting -- it should have completed the construction of two relief wells.
As much as 47 million gallons of crude may now have leaked into the ocean already, threatening multiple ecosystems and upending the livelihoods of coastal residents.
For Mr Obama, the BP disaster now trumps all other domestic and foreign priorities. Beset by allegations that he was disengaged from the crisis for too long, he flew down to Louisiana only a week after his last visit.
The White House also confirmed that he had postponed for a second time an overseas trip set for later this month to Indonesia and Australia.
In an interview with Larry King of CNN before leaving Washington, Mr Obama tried to deflect criticism of the federal response to the tragedy.
"I am furious because this is an example where somebody didn't think through the consequences of their actions," he said, firmly pointing the finger of blame at BP. (© Independent News Services)