Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said he believed BP has done its best to cope with the spill, resulting from an April 20 oil rig explosion, explosion and to try to stop the flow of oil 5,000 feet below the surface.
Allen's comments on CNN's "State of the Union" came as BP indicated it would try anew to stop oil flow using mud and cement by early Wednesday.
"They have the eyes and ears that are down there," Allen said. "They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved. Our responsibility is to conduct proper oversight to make sure they do that."
Robert Dudley, BP's managing director, said on the CNN program the explosion, which killed 11 people, and the massive oil leak have been "catastrophic for every employee of BP" and for the 24,000 workers responding to the spill.
"We have to do everything we can to clean this up as fast as we can and we'll make good on our promise," Dudley said.
Allen pointed to vast differences in responses to the gulf leak and any other spill, including that of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
"We're on entirely new ground here on how we deal with oil spill responses," he said.
Humans have no direct access to the spot where torrents of oil gush into the gulf, and the area must be viewed through remotely operated vehicles and cameras, Allen said.
"This is an entirely new world, and I've said on many occasions, this is closer to Apollo 13 than the Exxon Valdez," he said.
The Apollo 13 space mission narrowly averted disaster when its crew and space agency engineers improvised a solution to an unprecedented in-flight equipment failure.