Gulf coast beaches, normally packed on Independence Day, were quiet on Sunday as workers cleaned up tar balls from BP's leaking oil well while the company was reported to be taking steps to ward off potential takeover bids.

The impact of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history on the Gulf of Mexico tourist industry was evident on its 76th day as dozens of workers picked up tar balls along Pensacola Beach.

It's ... sad to see the beach is not as crowded as it normally is, there's not as many people here. Not as many people in the restaurants. Very sad because you know they need the business, said Derek Robbins, a tourist from Houston who has been coming to Pensacola every year for decades.

There were scattered sun-bathers but not the usual crowds and nearby parking lots were far from full.

Mississippi beaches, which would usually be heaving with tail-gate parties -- where people barbecue meat and drink beer from the backs of their pick-up trucks -- were also quiet. In Biloxi, clean-up crews worked on nearly empty beaches.


Newspapers said on Sunday that BP is seeking a strategic investor to build its defenses against any takeover attempts.
Investors were sure to react when London markets opened on Monday. Markets in New York will be closed for the long holiday weekend.

British-based BP has become a potential target because its share price has roughly halved, taking $100 billion off its market value, since the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 workers and unleashed the still gushing leak.

Britain's Sunday Times said company advisers were trying to drum up interest among rival oil groups and sovereign wealth funds to take a stake of between 5 and 10 percent at a cost of up to 6 billion pounds ($9.1 billion).

Abu Dhabi newspaper The National said Middle East financial institutions were looking to make a strategic investment in the company. BP declined to comment.

The Financial Times on Saturday reported that BP investors expected the company's leadership to change, possibly once the leak is capped, with both Chief Executive Tony Hayward and Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg in jeopardy in losing their jobs.

The company expects to cap the leaking well next month when a relief well being drilled is completed.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that BP was facing fresh criticism over its approach to safety as it emerged it did not use an industry standard process, known as a safety case, to assess risk at the Deepwater Horizon rig.

A BP spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters that it did not use the procedure, developed in Britain after the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in 1988, at any of its U.S. wells since it was not legally required to do so in the United States.

In Washington, the U.S. Interior Department could issue a revised offshore oil drilling moratorium for U.S. waters in the coming week.

A federal court last week lifted a six-month drilling ban imposed by the Obama administration. The new moratorium is expected to be more flexible and could be adjusted to allow drilling in certain subsea fields.

Containment efforts continue. BP said its oil-capture systems at its leaking well collected or burned off 25,195 barrels of oil during operations on Saturday.

High seas were preventing most skimming vessels from operating but a super tanker adapted to scoop oily water from the surface was being tested by Coast Guard officials just north of the well site, said Bob Grantham, spokesman for TMT Shipping Offshore, which operates the vessel named A Whale.

TMT hopes that once the ship has passed the test it will secure a skimming contract that could in theory greatly enhance the total capacity of the containment operation to remove oil pollution from the water.

(Additional reporting by Leigh Coleman in Biloxi, Mississippi, Matthew Bigg in New Orleans, Shaheen Pasha in Dubai, and Matt Scuffham in London; Writing by Ed Stoddard, editing by Alan Elsner)