Barack Obama plunged up to his neck into the debate about the safety of Gulf waters after the BP oil spillyesterday when the White House released a photo of the president taking a dip at a Florida resort town.
The White House had cast the trip to Panama City by the president,Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha as a solidarity mission that would help restore public confidence in the resort towns, which have suffered heavy cancellations during the peak school holiday season. Obama has faced a growing chorus of criticism for not heeding his own advice that Americans vacation in the Gulf.
The president and his family were pictured playing mini golf and taking a boat trip around St Andrews Bay looking for dolphins.
The White House also released a single image of Obama swimming with his daughter by the official photographer Pete Souza. Other photographers were kept away from the beach.
The resort towns of the Florida panhandle are on the eastern edge of the oil spill but the beaches were still hit by tar balls and an oily sheen.
A study by Oxford Economics for the US Travel Association estimated the spill could cost coastal towns in the four Gulf states nearly $23 billion dollars in lost tourism arrivals over the next three years.
On Friday, Alabama became the first state to sue BP for damage from the oil spill. Louisiana sustained the most damage to its coastline following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig three months ago.
The state's attorney general said it was suing BP, Transocean and Halliburton for "catastrophic harm" caused by the spill.
On Saturday, Obama sought to shore up businesses along the entire Gulf coast.
"As a result of the clean-up effort beaches all along the Gulf Coast are clean, they are safe and they are open for business," Obama told reporters. "That's one of the reasons Michelle, Sasha and I are here."
He promised that his administration would continue to monitor the oil as it hit the shore and to make sure the clean up was completed.
But the first family's own holiday in the Gulf was over within just 27 hours with the Obamas returning to Washington by lunchtime today. They leave on their real holiday – a 10-day stay in Martha's Vineyard midweek.
No new oil has entered the Gulf since July 15 when a BP crew fitted a new cap over the well.
The administration's lead official on the crisis, Coast Guard commander Thad Allen, on Saturday directed BP to conduct a new set of pressure tests on the well before launching the operation to kill it for good with a relief well.
It could be later tomorrow or early on Tuesday before officials know the results of those tests.
U.S. President Barack Obama points to a fflying saucer over the bay as Mike Gorton (L), owner of Bay Point Watersports, stands behind him as first lady Michelle Obama and their daughter Sasha enjoy lunch at Lime's bayside bar and grill during their short vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida, August 14, 2010