LONDON – BP's chief executive Tony Hayward resigned on Tuesday, claiming to have been "demonized and vilified" over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster that is set to cost the British group $32 billion.
Hayward, whose PR gaffes made him a target of US fury, will be succeeded by Bob Dudley, who is in charge of BP's Gulf clean-up operations and who has vowed to "change the culture" of how the company tackles safety issues.
BP on Tuesday said it had made a record $16.9-billion loss in the second quarter, and will sell 30 billion dollars of assets over the next 18 months as it seeks to return to profitability.
"This is a very sad day for me personally," Hayward told a conference call.
"Whether it is fair or unfair is not the point. I became the public face and was demonised and vilified. BP cannot move on in the US with me as its leader."
Hayward added: "Sometimes you step off the pavement and get hit by a bus."
But the United States poured scorn on Hayward's comments, saying not many people would be feeling sympathy for him.
"I don't think that a lot of people in any country are feeling overly sorry for the former CEO of BP," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
The troubled firm was pushed into the red by the $32.2 billion (24.7 billion euros) set aside to pay for the costs of the spill -- which was the worst environmental disaster in US history.
BP and Hayward have been mauled by Washington since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and unleashing millions of gallons of crude into the sea and onto the US Gulf coast.
"The Gulf of Mexico explosion was a terrible tragedy for which -- as the man in charge of BP when it happened -- I will always feel a deep responsibility, regardless of where blame is ultimately found to lie," Hayward said.
He will step down on October 1, and will remain a BP board member until November 30, but has meanwhile been nominated as a non-executive director of Russian joint venture TNK-BP.
Under his contract, Hayward will receive one year's salary, worth 1.045 million pounds (1.245 million euros, $1.620 million). He also has a pension pot totalling 11 million pounds.
Dudley will become BP's first American chief executive following the resignation.
"I think sometimes events like this shake you to the core, the foundation, and you have two responses," Dudley said in an TV interview with ABC News, in reference to the oil disaster.
"One is to run away and hide, the other is to respond and really change the culture of the company and make sure all the checks and balances are there, just to make sure this does not happen again."
Dudley added that his top priority was to permanently seal the Gulf well, contain the crude spill and to clean up and restore the area's beaches. The group had finally capped the leak on July 15.
BP's share price has plunged about 40 percent since the explosion -- wiping tens of billions of dollars off the group's market value. BP shares closed down 2.63% at 406 pence in London.
"As expected, BP reported the worst figures in UK corporate history," said ETX Capital trader Manoj Ladwa.
BP added that Dudley will move to London and hand over his present duties to Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America.
It has taken more than three months to stem the Gulf of Mexico oil flow. Up to 4 million barrels (170 million gallons) of crude has escaped.
The catastrophe has destroyed vital tourism, fishing and oil industries in the five US Gulf coast states and left BP facing soaring clean-up and compensation costs.
Hayward, 53, had already handed over day-to-day management of the crisis in June to Dudley, as criticism mounted over his gaffe-prone handling of the disaster.
Hayward enraged Gulf residents when he said in a May 18 interview that the environmental impact of the spill would be "very, very modest."
Then on May 30 he was seen as insensitive to the families of the dead rig workers when he said he wanted the disaster over with so he could have his "life back".
BP meanwhile came under fresh fire in Washington for its decision not to send Hayward to testify at a Senate hearing on whether the firm had a hand in the Lockerbie bomber's release.
"I would have thought that a company on thin ice with the American people for devastating the Gulf Coast would want to fully cooperate with our effort to fully understand the release of a terrorist who murdered 189 Americans," said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.