CUSTOMS officers investigating the discovery of drugs in a truck were forced to fly in an interpreter to question the foreign driver.

Investigators had to pay for the Flemish interpreter after they discovered the driver could not speak English.

They had to wait 48 hours before questioning the man, after discovering the huge haul of cannabis.

According to officials, the drug had an estimated street value of £500,000.

The Belgian driver was stopped after driving off a ferry from Amsterdam.

The vessel docked at North Shields International Ferry Terminal, in North Tyneside, on Thursday morning.

Drugs allegedly found inside the lorry after a routine check comprised 170 kilos of cannabis in various forms.

Officials said they found the powerful cannabis variant skunk, as well as herbal and resin.

The driver was immediately arrested and taken to North Shields police station for questioning.

But the detectives soon realised that their prisoner could not understand a word they said.

So he has been held there while officers tried to track down an interpreter fluent in Flemish.

Flemish is generally regarded as the Belgian variant of Dutch rather than a separate language.

It is spoken by about 5.5 million people in Belgium, where it is one of the official languages.

Flemish and Dutch are so closely related as languages that the difference between them has been compared to the difference between US and British English.

Customs and Excise officers eventually found a female interpreter in Ireland, who arrived in the country yesterday afternoon.

Rob Hastings-Trew, a regional spokesman for Customs and Excise, said: "If somebody claims that they cannot understand, then we would do everything that we can to accommodate them.

"We do have lists of interpreters from which we work. We use interpreters in many different languages but I would imagine this is a very unusual case."

The drugs haul was immediately impounded and is being held at a a secure location in the region.