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“I think they have taken view that his departure will relieve some of the political and media pressure in the U.S. and help BP rebuild its U.S. reputation,” Mr. Cumming told BBC radio.

Chief executives inevitably often are sacked for corporate failure, whether or not they had any direct responsibility for what happened, said Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners in London.

“Neither should we forget that Mr. Hayward has been master of his own downfall and that by those sometimes unfortunate remarks and attitude displayed in public he made his own situation all the more worse,” Mr. Wheeldon said.

Mr. Dudley so far has avoided any gaffes. Currently BP’s managing director, he grew up partly in Hattiesburg, Miss. Mr. Dudley spent 20 years at Amoco Corp., which merged with BP in 1998, and lost out to Mr. Hayward for the CEO’s slot three years ago.

BP said that the cost of dealing with the spill had reached nearly $4 billion by July 19 but that it was too early to quantify the eventual total cost.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said BP’s attitude about making things right was more important than who is running the company.

BP, from, I think, everybody’s perspective, made a very bad mistake,” he said. “I think what the world expects from BP is an acknowledgment that something was done wrong. I think BP has a long way to go to gain the trust of the people.”

Mr. Hayward makes 1.045 million pounds sterling ($1.6 million) a year as the company’s head, according to its annual report. In 2009, he received a performance bonus of more than 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) plus other remuneration, bringing his total pay package to over 4 million pounds ($6.2 million).

BP is the process of selling assets to raise $10 billion toward a $20 billion fund that will finance the cleanup of the mess in the Gulf. BP announced last week that it had sold properties in the United States, Canada and Egypt to Apache Corp. for $7 billion.

Under pressure from President Obama, BP has also announced that it will pay no more dividends to shareholders this year. That move disappointed some 18 million Britons, many of them retirees, who hold stock in what used to be the country’s largest company.

Robert Barr reported from London.