BP chief executive Tony Hayward, often criticised for being tone-deaf to US concerns about the worst oil spill in American history, took time off today to attend a glitzy yacht race off England's Isle of Wight.
Spokeswoman Sheila Williams said Hayward took a break from overseeing BP efforts to stem the undersea gusher in Gulf of Mexico to watch his boat "Bob" participate in the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.
The one-day yacht race is one of the world's largest, attracting hundreds of boats and thousands of sailors.
In a statement, BP described Hayward's day off as "a rare moment of private time" and said that "no matter where he is, he is always in touch with what is happening within BP" and can direct recovery operations if required.
That is likely to be a hard sell in Gulf states struggling to deal with the up to 120 million gallons of oil that have escaped from a blown-out undersea well.
A pair of relief wells that won't be done until August is the best bet to stop the massive spill that was set off by an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers on April 20. BP has been hammered for its response, in part because of comments by Hayward that Gulf Coast residents horrified by the spill consider insensitive.
By late June, the oil giant hopes it can keep nearly 90 per cent of the flow from hitting the ocean. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen on Saturday said a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons (3.8 million liters) of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity.
British environmental groups immediately slammed Hayward's outing. Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said Hayward was "rubbing salt into the wounds" of Gulf residents whose livelihoods have been wrecked by the disaster.
"Clearly it is incredibly insulting for him to be sailing in the Isle of Wight," he said.
Hugh Walding, the coordinator of the Isle of Wight Friends of the Earth, said Hayward's choice of venue was sure to arouse anger.
"I'm sure that this will be seen as yet another public relations disaster," Walding said.
Hayward's public persona has already dented the company's image. Hayward angered many in the United States when he was quoted in the Times of London as suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims.
He later shocked residents in Louisiana by telling them that no one wanted to resolve the crisis as badly as he did, adding: "I'd like my life back."