VENICE, La. (AP) - Just when it seemed Gulf residents couldn't get any moreoutraged about the massive oil spill fouling their coastline, wordcame Saturday that BP's CEO was taking time off to attend a glitzyyacht race in England.
Tony Hayward's latest public relations gaffe didn't sit wellwith people in the U.S. who have seen their livelihoods ruined bythe massive two-month oil spill.
"Man, that ain't right. None of us can even go out fishing,and he's at the yacht races," said Bobby Pitre, 33, who runs atattoo shop in Larose, La. "I wish we could get a day off from theoil, too."
As social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook lit upwith anger, BP spokespeople rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawnwithering criticism as the public face of his company's haltingefforts to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Robert Wine, a BP spokesman at the company's Houstonheadquarters, said it's the first break Hayward has had since theDeepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers andsetting off the undersea gusher.
"He's spending a few hours with his family at a weekend,"Wine said Saturday. "I'm sure that everyone would understand that."
Not Mike Strohmeyer, who owns the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice,on Louisiana's southern tip, who said Hayward was "just numb."
"I don't think he has any feelings," he said. "If I was inhis position, I think I'd be in a more responsible place. I thinkhe should be with someone out trying to plug the leak."
Wine said Hayward is known to be keenly interested in theannual race around the Isle of Wight, one of the world's largest.It attracts more than 1,700 boats and 16,000 sailors as famousyachtsmen compete with wealthy amateurs in the 50-nautical milecourse around the island.
Hayward was watching his 52-foot (16-meter) yacht "Bob," madeby the Annapolis, Md.-based boatbuilder Farr Yacht Design. It has alist price of nearly $700,000.
The outing is one of a series of missteps by Hayward inrecent weeks. He suggested to the Times of London that Americanswere particularly likely to file bogus claims over the spill, thenlater told residents of Louisiana that no one wanted to resolve thecrisis as badly as he did because "I'd like my life back."
Even the British press, much more sympathetic to thecompany's plight, has expressed disbelief at its media strategy.
"It is hard to recall a more catastrophically mishandledpublic relations response to a crisis than the one we arewitnessing," the Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Warner wrote Friday.
That was before news about the yacht race broke but after thechief executive made his appearance before a U.S. Houseinvestigations panel in which he dodged question after question,claiming he was out of the loop on decisions surrounding the wellthat blew when the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, calledHayward's decision to attend the yacht race a public relationsfiasco and told ABC's "This Week," that Hayward had "got his lifeback."
"I think we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not goingto have a second career in PR consulting," he said in an interviewtaped Saturday.
Obama has also struggled to counter criticism of how hisadministration has handled the disaster. Up to 120 million gallonsof oil has already gushed into the Gulf.
Crude has been washing up from Louisiana to Florida, killingbirds and fish, coating delicate marshes and wetlands and coveringpristine beaches with tar balls.
A pair of relief wells that won't be done until August is thebest bet to stop the massive spill. By late June, BP hopes a newlyexpanded containment system can keep nearly 90 percent of the flowfrom the broken pipe from hitting the ocean.
But the buzz Saturday on social networking sites like Twitterand Facebook was all about Hayward's yacht outing, with many notingthat Gulf residents want their lives back too.
It was not clear whether Hayward took part in the race, whichhe attended with son, or was just a spectator. His boat finishedfourth in its class. It often costs tens of thousands of dollars(pounds) to equip a yacht for a race as competitive as the Isle ofWight.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and local officials along theGulf were infuriated by Hayward's weekend plans.
"I'm glad Mr. Hayward is on a yacht, because he certainlyhasn't been helping us," said Robert Craft, the mayor of GulfShores, Ala. Officials on the Alabama coast estimate tourism isdown about 50 percent because of the spill.
Questions remained about whether Hayward is still in chargeof the cleanup effort. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg seemed tosuggest Friday that he was being withdrawn from the front line ofthe response.
"It is clear that Tony has made remarks that have upsetpeople," Svanberg told Sky News television, adding that Hayward was"now handing over" daily operations to BP Managing Director BobDudley.
But BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams said Svanberg wasmisunderstood and that only a transition to Dudley, an Americanwith 30 years in the oil business, had begun.
is very much in charge until we've stopped theleak," she told the AP on Saturday.
BP, Britain's largest company before the oil rig exploded,has lost about 45 percent of its value since then - a drop hasalarmed millions of British retirees whose pension funds hold BPstock. Just this week, BP announced that it was canceling itsquarterly dividend.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The trial for Giuseppe Pino LoPorto continues today in Baldwin County. LoPorto, now 80-years-old, faces several sex abuse charges against a child dating back to the early 90s.
FOX10 News has learned William "Eddie" Patrick, captain of Mobile's First police precinct, has been demoted following an internal investigation.
The Mobile Jaycees announce the members of the 2014-15 Azalea Trail Court.
Pastor of Lifeway Community Church Mike McPherson says thieves stole presents that would have been given to needy children.
A man who bought a bicycle three weeks ago finds out it was originally stolen, according to the original owner who reported it missing in October.
If you were in the Foley area Thursday, you may have seen a helicopter, police and K-9 units. That’s because a store in Foley was robbed this morning at gunpoint. Eventually, the search was called off. The suspect is still on the loose.