BP chief executive Tony Hayward, often criticized for being tone-deaf to American concerns about the worst oil spill in U.S. history, took time off Saturday 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 J.P. 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 break 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 the slick-hit Gulf states struggling to deal with the up to 120 million gallons of oil that have escaped since April 20 from a blown-out undersea well operated by Hayward's company.
It was not clear whether Hayward actually took part in the race or attended as a spectator. Williams refused to comment beyond saying that the embattled chief executive was there with his son.
Peta Stuart-Hunt, a press officer for the event, said Hayward "wasn't listed on any of the crew list."
"If he is on the boat, he's in contravention of the rules," she said.
Whatever the case, Hayward's appearance at the race is likely to draw outrage in the United States, where he has already been criticized for failing to answer questions from U.S. lawmakers.
(This version CORRECTS to worst spill in U.S. history in first paragraph. )
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