Nine would-be illegal immigrants were found squeezed inside hidden compartments in two lorries stopped at North Shields international passenger ferry terminal last week.
The nine Albanian men were discovered while UK Border Agency officers working at the dock were searching the two Romanian-registered lorries after their arrival a week ago on Monday on an early-morning ferry from Ijmuiden in the Netherlands.
The stowaways, ranging in age from their 20s to 40s, were questioned then put back on a ferry to the Netherlands later the same day.
This was the biggest find of stowaways ever made by border agency officers at a north east port.
The haulier involved was fined £5,000 for failing to properly secure the lorries.
One of the ferries was carrying flat-pack furniture to Gateshead, and the other was loaded with wood bound for County Durham.
Both had come from Bucharest.
John Spence, assistant director at the agency, said: “Officers at the Port of Tyne use the latest technology, sniffer dogs and their own experience and expertise to stay one step ahead of illegal immigrants.
“The UK Border Agency’s strong presence at the frontier helps protect the whole country from people illegally entering the UK and then heading for places across Britain.
“We will not hesitate to take strong action against hauliers who fail to secure their vehicles.”
Agency officers use hi-tech search equipment to seek out stowaways and detect banned and restricted goods being imported by smugglers.
They use sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners to find would-be illegal immigrants, as well as drugs, firearms and cigarettes.