Ben Stevens, the former state senator who has come under scrutiny along with his father in a broad federal public corruption probe, has taken a new job far from his Anchorage home.
The younger Stevens has been hired as a crewman aboard a work boat supporting Dutch oil giant Shell's planned Arctic Ocean exploratory drilling campaign.
The job marks a return to a former seafaring life for Stevens, who for many years ran crab fishing boats in the Bering Sea.
A Shell contractor, Bering Marine Corp., a unit of Anchorage-based transportation company Lynden Inc., hired Stevens as mate and relief skipper aboard the 121-foot combination tug and landing craft Arctic Seal.
The vessel is supporting a Shell-hired drilling ship now sitting in Dutch Harbor, preparing for a drilling campaign later this summer in the icy Beaufort Sea off Alaska's northern coast.
Stevens and the crew of the Arctic Seal have been ferrying heavy equipment and supplies from land to the drill ship Frontier Discoverer, which is anchored offshore.
Lynden executives said they called Stevens and offered him the job. They said he had previously worked for the company running boats.
"He's licensed, qualified, and right now it's hard to find good experienced employees like that," said Rick Gray, president of Bering Marine.
Lynden president Jim Jansen added that working aboard the Arctic Seal is no glamour job. He called it "a pretty crude piece of equipment."
"It's a very dirty and difficult job, and we pay Ben the identical wage that any other crew member in a similar position would get," Gray said. "We're real proud to have Ben working for us."
Stevens, who was state Senate president until his term ended in January, has come under scrutiny amid a federal investigation that has resulted in bribery charges against four former state lawmakers, one of whom has been convicted.
Stevens, 48, was among several lawmakers whose Anchorage legislative offices were searched by FBI agents nearly a year ago.
He hasn't been charged with any crime, but federal prosecutors have made reference to a "State Senator B" -- unmistakably Stevens -- who took $243,250 in bogus "consulting" fees from Bill Allen and his oil field services company, Veco Corp.
Allen pleaded guilty in May to bribery and other charges, and admitted that the payments to Stevens were mainly for influencing legislative action. Allen also offered to make Stevens a Veco executive, court papers say.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Anchorage, recently has come under scrutiny as well after federal agents searched the senior senator's Girdwood home, which was remodeled in 2000 with Allen and Veco taking a hand in the project.
Ben Stevens, who is living aboard the boat, could not be reached. But he asked his attorney, John Wolfe of Seattle, to return a reporter's call.
Wolfe said Tuesday that Stevens has a background in running boats, as well as a wife and children. So when the job offer came from Lynden, he took it.
"It's like many of the jobs Ben Stevens has had. It's hard work," Wolfe said. "It's a job he's well-qualified to do. He's had years of experience on the sea."
Wolfe added that Stevens is "innocent of any charges," and that Lynden saw in him the honesty and integrity necessary for the responsibility he's been given.
He said he didn't know how much Lynden is paying Stevens.
Gray and Jansen said Stevens has been hired for the Shell project, and that the job could last until the Beaufort Sea ices up this fall, marking the end of the offshore drilling season.
Whether the drilling will proceed, however, is an open question as environmentalists, the North Slope Borough and other challengers have won a temporary block of Shell's plans in federal court. At issue is whether the drilling could disturb migratory bowhead whales hunted for subsistence.
That's why Shell's drill ship remains in Dutch Harbor. If Shell can prevail in court and also secure some remaining permits, the ship will head north to the Beaufort Sea.
And so, mostly likely, will Stevens and the Arctic Seal, which is mentioned in Shell's plans as part of a support fleet to voyage to the Beaufort for the drilling.
Find Wesley Loy online at adn.com/contact/wloy or call 257-4590.
By WESLEY LOY