Key Points:

Fresh questions have been raised about the Navy's drinking culture after new figures revealed the high number of personnel arrested by military police.

Figures released to the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act show 82 Navy personnel were arrested in Auckland in the three years to July 1 for offences including assault, disorderly behaviour and misuse of drugs and alcohol.

That compares with 32 Army staff arrested during the same period, despite that service having more than twice as many personnel.

No centralised records are kept for the Air Force, but there were thought to be no more than a handful of arrests among a staff bigger than the Navy's.

Of the Navy arrests, 58 were for assault, nine for dishonest behaviour, five each for misuse of drugs or alcohol and disorderly behaviour, four for theft and one for breach of regulations.

A Navy spokeswoman said the Herald on Sunday would not be able to carry out a phone interview about the figures. Instead she provided a short statement from Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral David Ledson.

"Figures for the Navy indicate despite considerable efforts, more remains to be done to bring the behaviour of every sailor into line with the Navy's core values of courage, comradeship and commitment," he said.

"A number of strategies are in place to influence more acceptable behaviour and these are starting to have an effect but an enduring and institutionalised improvement will take some time."

The exact number of service personnel arrested could be much higher. New Zealand Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae declined a Herald on Sunday request for the number of Navy, Army and Air Force staff arrested by civilian police over the same period and how many had been convicted.

He said there were 9200 regular service members, each with a personal file. "Given the number of those files and their distribution... it would be an unreasonable and inappropriate use of NZDF resources to order all those files to be searched."

The Navy is based in Devonport on Auckland's North Shore. Almost 1900 personnel work at the base, although the service has 2726 regular, non-regular and civilian personnel in total.

The Army has 7133, most of whom work from three bases, and the Air Force 3090, also at three locations.

New Zealand Defence Force spokesman Bas Bolyn said numbers fluctuated between locations due to training commitments, postings, overseas operations and study.

Naval staff based in Devonport have been involved in several well-publicised incidents. In April the service joined forces with the North Shore City Council and North Shore Police to change the drinking culture that dates back to the days of rum rations.

The old junior mess was replaced with an RSA-style bar and lounge with food. Personnel were warned about hefty fines, military detention or loss of privileges if they misbehaved and breath-testing was introduced for personnel leaving the base.

Devonport Community Board chairman Mike Cohen said the base had improved its act and a restriction on public drinking in the suburb was extended this month.

IN THE DOCK
* Last month, two naval ratings accused of raping a colleague at the base after a Sunday afternoon drinking session last November were committed to Auckland's High Court for trial.
* In July, three people appeared in court after a fatal Auckland motorway crash. Naval rating Michael Williams, 18, was a front-seat passenger in a ute when it crashed near the Pt Chevalier off-ramp on January 26. Two of the accused are still in the Navy and the other left in March.
* In May, a 22-year-old naval rating was found driving a motor vehicle in Auckland with a blood alcohol level of 94 mg per 100ml, 14mg above the legal limit.
* Navy chef Jasmine Bastion, 23, was killed in the early hours of March 3 last year when the high-powered car she was a passenger in crashed into a wall near the base. A naval rating was driving but walked away with barely a scratch.