The military and the coast guard said yesterday there were no difficulties in coordinating their efforts to prevent people smuggling.
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) said the navy had signed an agreement in February with the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) on cooperation in maritime affairs.
"Under the agreement, the navy is responsible for control of the seas and the handling of hostile warships, while the CGA takes care of law enforcement in waters surrounding the country," ministry spokesman Major General Huang Sui-sheng (黃穗生) said.
"If necessary, the CGA can ask for assistance from the navy. The navy may send warships to help the CGA's patrol boats monitor certain foreign ships that the CGA is not capable of watching around-the-clock," Huang said.
Huang was speaking at a regular ministry press conference yesterday as part of a response to press inquiries on people smuggling.
National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) first raised the matter and asked the ministry and the CGA to report to the legislature on Monday.
Huang denied there was any problem coordinating the navy and the CGA in preventing smuggling.
The CGA's response was similar. It insisted that a mechanism had been put in place and that if there was any problem, the NSC would work for a solution.
A senior official at the CGA, who spoke to the Taipei Times on condition of anonymity, said: "The NSC should use its power to integrate all available resources for the prevention of smuggling. We will listen to it. Other relevant government agencies will do the same."
He added that the council was the head of the country's national security system, of which the CGA was only a part.
With both the ministry and the CGA denying any fault in their approach, a defense official, who had been involved in maritime law enforcement when the Taiwan Garrison Command was responsible for coastal matters, said the CGA must realize that there was no way to stop smugglers coming ashore, regardless of how many resources it had at its disposal.
The Taiwan Garrison Command, the predecessor of the CGA, had been responsible for the defense and control of the coastline for several decades before handing over its duties to the army in the late 1980s. The jurisdiction later transferred to the coast guard command, which was established in the early 1990s.
That short-lived structure was incorporated four years ago into the CGA, which was manned by a combination of the marine police and military personnel.
"Ever since the Taiwan Garrison Command was relieved of duties monitoring and guarding the coastline, the smuggling of goods and people from China seems to have become an insolvable problem," the ex-garrison command official said.
"As it is virtually impossible to prevent every smuggler from landing on Taiwan, a ground force is needed to find and track any goods or people that have made their way into the cities," he said.
"But for now, as long as the smugglers come ashore, there is very little chance of finding them," the official said.