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Originally published Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 8:35 PM

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BP's Tony Hayward yacht outing draws anger

Just when it seemed Gulf residents couldn't get any more outraged about the massive oil spill fouling their coastline, word came ...

The New York Times

BP officials scrambled Saturday to respond to another public-relations mess when their chief executive, Tony Hayward, spent the day off the coast of England watching his yacht compete in one of the world's largest races.

Two days after Hayward angered lawmakers on Capitol Hill with his refusal to provide details during testimony about the worst offshore oil spill in U.S history, and one day after BP's chairman said the chief executive would not be as involved in daily operations in the Gulf, Hayward sparked new controversy from afar.

"He is having some rare private time with his son," a BP spokeswoman, Sheila Williams, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who taped an interview for ABC's "This Week," called Hayward's attendance at the race "part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes" that he has made. "To quote Tony Hayward, he's got his life back," Emanuel said.

Hayward watched his 52-foot yacht, "Bob," whip around the Isle of Wight as anger simmered back on the steamy Gulf Coast, where crude has been washing in from the still-gushing 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 a tattoo shop in the crossroads town of Larose, La. "I wish we could get a day off from the oil, too."

BP spokesman Robert Wine said the break was the first for Hayward since the Deepwater Horizon rig BP was leasing exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

He noted Hayward is a well-known as a fan of the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, one of the world's largest, which attracts more than 1,700 boats and 16,000 sailors as famous yachtsmen compete with wealthy amateurs in a 50-nautical mile course around the island at England's southern tip. "Bob" finished fourth in its group of 45 vessels.

The boat, made 10 years ago by the Annapolis, Md.-based boatbuilder Farr Yacht Design, lists for nearly $700,000.

Hayward had already angered many in the U.S. when he was quoted in the Times of London as suggesting Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims for compensation from the spill. He later told Louisiana residents May 31 that no one wanted to resolve the crisis as much as he did because "I'd like my life back."

The comment struck many as insensitive, and he eventually apologized for it.

Hayward's role in the Gulf became the topic of further speculation Saturday, even as Williams, the BP spokeswoman, insisted Hayward was still in charge of the company and the Gulf cleanup operations.

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"Tony receives regular updates from the Gulf," she said in an e-mail.

BP's chairman of the board, Carl-Henric Svanberg, told the British television network Sky News on Friday that Hayward would be "now handing over" the daily operations in the Gulf to Robert Dudley, an American who joined BP as part of its acquisition of Amoco a decade ago.

BP tried Saturday to clarify what Svanberg had said about the transition of leadership in the Gulf. "What he meant by 'now,' " Williams said, is that "there would be a transition over to Bob over a period of time."

Williams said that Hayward announced the change in a June 4 meeting to shareholders, but that he was still in overall control of the company.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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