US president Barack Obama has gone swimming off the coast of Florida and declared the Gulf area’s beaches “open for business”, trying to show by example that a region hit by the BP oil spill was safe for tourists to enjoy.
Mr Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP’s deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured in April, pledged to restore the economy and the environment in the aftermath of the world’s worst offshore oil spill.
“Oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf and it has not been flowing for a month,” he told reporters after holding talks with local business owners.
“But I’m here to tell you that our job is not finished, and we are not going anywhere until it is.
“That is a commitment my administration is going to keep.”
No oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since July 15, when BP placed a tight-fitting cap over the broken Macondo well which has spewed about 4.9 million barrels of oil since April 20.
The British company has injected cement into the top of the well to seal it.
But officials say they will not declare victory until completion of a relief well being drilled four kilometres beneath the seabed that is now just feet away from its target.
More cement is due to be pumped in via the well.
The president and his family are on a weekend trip to Panama City as part of an effort to encourage more tourists to visit Florida’s famous white sand beaches, which have suffered only minor damage from the spill, mostly in the form of scattered tar balls and small oil patches.
“I also want to point out that as a result of the clean-up effort, beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean and safe and open for business,” Mr Obama said.
“That’s one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha, and I are here,” he said, referring to his wife and youngest daughter.
The White House later released a picture of Mr Obama immersed in the Gulf waters, playing with nine-year-old Sasha.
Mr Obama’s public approval ratings have been dented by public discontent, especially in Gulf Coast communities, over his administration’s response to the spill.
The administration came under fire during the crisis for appearing to cede too much responsibility for management of the spill to BP.
While Florida escaped largely unscathed, other states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were hard hit and are the focus of BP’s clean-up operations.