Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the US pointman on the crisis, said on Friday that the delay was needed to allow engineers time to clear debris from the damaged wellhead caused by Tropical Storm Bonnie, which briefly halted spill operations.

Positive signs

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo accompanied the coast guard to assess the current state of the spill, saying: "The good news is that we did not see any major oil on the surface of the water.

"We just see little streaks of oil here and there, but it's not nearly as bad as it was nearly a month ago and as we fly back to New Orleans, that's a very positive sign.

Fallout from the spill has reached Canada where oil exploration is raising concerns

"The static kill operation could potentially put an end to this very long saga that's been going on for almost 100 days but we'll have to wait and see if it will succeed."

However, Kent Wells, the senior vice-president of BP, said the company was confident the static kill would proceed successfully.

A cap in place for two weeks has shown no sign of leaks, "giving us more confidence that this well has integrity," which is a positive sign for the operation, Wells said.

Wells said BP hopes the static kill will be able to overcome the flow of oil, but that a second sealing method via an intercept through a relief well would go ahead afterwards regardless.

BP said the relief well is likely to intersect the existing well deep below the Gulf floor within eight to 10 days, allowing the second sealing process, a bottom kill, by the end of August.

Restoring the coast

In his first news conference on the spill since being named to replace Tony Hayward, BP's former chief, Dudley stressed the company's commitment to restoring the coast.

"We are scaling back the number of vessels offshore but we are not stopping cleanup operations by any means. We are not complacent about this at all," he said.

Millions of litres of oil have poured into the Gulf since April, when a rig exploded and sank, killing 11 workers and triggering the leak from the BP-owned well.

"We'll be here for years," he said, as BP announced a $100 million charitable fund to aid unemployed rig workers who are experiencing economic hardship due to the US government's ongoing moratorium on deepwater drilling.

With the focus now moving towards mitigating the long-term impact of the worst-ever US oil spill, Dudley said there would be signs that the operation was changing.

Miles of protective boom will be withdrawn from coastlines, and fewer clean-up crews in hazmat suits would be seen on beaches as oil stopped washing ashore.

"So you'll probably see that kind of a pullback. But commitment, absolutely no pullback," he pledged.