A captain of a ship who was allegedly over the legal alcohol limit when bringing the ship into Northport had been sitting off shore for a number of days.

Police were asked by Maritime NZ on Friday to help at an incident involving a ship captain at Northport who was allegedly drunk.

Northland regional harbourmaster Jim Lyle said the ship had been at anchor outside the pilotage limits, waiting for a berth for a number of days before the incident occurred.

According to the Northport Shipping Berth planner online, the ship had an estimated time of arrival of 10am Tuesday.

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Mr Lyle said it was quite normal for a ship to go to anchor if there is no spot available. He said the ship was coming in to load logs.

Mr Lyle said a pilot, who was helping dock the ship thought the captain appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and reported it to him. He in turn reported it to Maritime NZ, which asked for help from the Whangarei police.

Police helped the Maritime Safety Unit by breath testing the captain of the Shansi - a 40,000 tonne logging ship.

The 53-year-old man from Devon in England, blew what was described as "an exceptionally high" reading.

The limit for a 'seafarer' is 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath and breaching the limit carries a 12 month term of imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.

Following the breath test, he was arrested and charged with an offence under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 s40c - contravenes specified breath or blood-alcohol limit.

A blood alcohol limit for on-duty seafarers was introduced to the Maritime Transport Act in 2013 as part of the Maritime Transport Amendment Bill.

Northport chief executive Jon Moore said it was "highly unlikely" the captain could have caused any incident because a pilot takes control of a ship for berthing.

He said while a captain is still responsible for their vessel, they don't control the tugs.

The pilot provides "an assurance" for the shore side, that berthing will happen smoothly.

The man appeared in Whangarei District Court on Saturday morning and was remanded on bail. He is scheduled to appear again this morning.

The Shansi is owned by China Navigation Company Limited, also known as Swire Shipping.

A Maritime New Zealand spokesperson said he was unable to confirm whether there it was investigating the incident. He said he was unable to make any comment on the incident, because the matter is before the courts.