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BP appeared to make progress early Saturday in capping the worst oil spill in US history, but President Barack Obama warned the British energy giant not to shortchange victims of the disaster.
BP offered the first positive signs since the massive oil leak began April 20, placing a cap on a ruptured pipe, which appeared to be working to capture most of the oil.
“I’m pretty confident this is going to work,” said BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles, speaking on ABC. “It probably won’t capture all of the flow. But it should capture the vast majority.”
But the progress failed to placate Obama, who voiced fresh rage at BP for its spending on public relations and plans to pay out dividends to shareholders as he made his third visit to the Gulf of Mexico region.Christofias said he was seeking a “just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem”
“I don’t have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations,” Obama said, after hearing BP may spend 50 million dollars on advertising and is poised to pay dividends of more than 10 billion dollars.
“But I want BP to be very clear — they?ve got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done.
And what I don’t want to hear is, when they?re spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they?re nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.”
Obama, who has been criticized for not showing enough emotion over the disaster, met with local residents in Camardelles, sitting at a picnic table overlooking the water, with a group eating boiled shrimp, crawfish, new potatoes and corn on the cob.
“These are some tough folks,” Obama said. “They’ve been through hurricanes, low prices. They’re used to hardship and how to deal with it.”
The president also cautioned it was “too early” to say whether the containment cap would work.
Eleven workers were killed in the April 20 explosion, and Obama will meet their families in a White House ceremony next week.
An estimated 20 million gallons of crude has poured into the Gulf since an explosion tore through the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Louisiana, more than six weeks ago.
The official in charge of the US government response to the spill, Admiral Thad Allen, said the upside-down, funnel-shaped container placed over the fractured wellhead late Thursday was collecting roughly about 1,000 barrels a day of oil.
A live video feed showed clouds of oil still gushing from the pipe, and government scientists have estimated that 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day have been spewing into the sea.
The scale of the disaster has forced the president to postpone a trip to Australia and Indonesia for the second time.
Shocking images of pelicans and seabirds writhing in oil along the Louisiana coast broadcast on US television networks and splashed on the front pages of newspapers underscored the rising environmental costs.
Some 60 birds were found Thursday to have been coated with oil when the leak hit the Queen Bess Island Rookery, Louisiana. Of the affected birds, 41 were pelicans, US officials said.
Spreading in oily ribbons, the slick is now threatening Alabama, Mississippi and Florida after contaminating more than 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Louisiana coastline.
Meanwhile US authorities reopened a section of more than 16,000 square miles (41,000 square kilometers) of previously closed fishing area off the Florida coast.
The zone was closed on June 2 as a precaution because oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill was projected to be within the area over the next 48 hours.
“However, the review of satellite imagery, radar and aerial data indicated that oil had not moved into the area,” the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward announced the formation of a team to work with locals and officials in the aftermath of the cleanup.
Hayward appointed Bob Dudley, a US citizen who is a managing director of the British energy giant, to head BP’s new disaster management unit in a sign that the painstaking cleanup operation and looming legal battles will likely last for years.
The CEO has faced growing anger about a series of blunders in the wake of the worst man-made environmental disaster in US history.
BP said it will be sending a second advance payment during June to individuals and businesses along the Gulf Coast to compensate for the loss of income, bringing its total to 84 million dollars.
“We deeply regret the impact the oil spill has had on individuals and businesses, and understand the need for quick and reasonable compensation,” said Doug Suttles, the BP chief operating officer.
About 14,000 individuals and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have received an initial advance payment for loss of income or net profit to date.
Copyright © 2010 Agence France Presse