A TEESSIDE business has revealed how it changed its working practices overnight to ensure the UK’s vital supply lifeline was maintained during the pandemic.

Lloyds Register GMT (LR GMT), based at the Wilton Centre near Redcar, is one of the five companies in the world which provides a fuel testing service for the planet’s 90,000 sea-going ships.

LR GMT employs 53 administrative and laboratory staff at the Wilton Centre who test many thousands of samples of oil a year for various parameters – such as water or sulphur content – which might affect the ship’s performance, be a danger to the crew or breach laws on emissions.

Andrew Shaw, managing director, said: “Depending on the client we test between 20 and 30 different parameters, and different parameters have different effects – from being useful to know to being critical.

"We can say, for example in the worst case, that if you use this you’ll destroy your engine in one voyage from Europe to the United States. Then you’d be talking about millions of dollars losses covering damage to the engine, down time, loss of rental income, and that’s not mentioning loss of reputation.

“Problem fuels exist all the time – 12 to13 per cent of fuel has a problem within it and two to three per cent has a serious problem. If you have a fleet of 50 ships you’ll have two or three serious cases every year where you’ll have something critical which needs our services.”

Guardian Marine Testing was launched from the Wilton Centre in 2007 by Mr Shaw and his business partners Paul Livingston and Andy McEwen. In 2015 their company was bought by Lloyds Register.

Now, LR GMT employs people in Southampton, Greece and Singapore and operates laboratories in China, Panama and Singapore.

Mr Shaw added: “What we provide is something in the background that nobody really knows about, but we consider ourselves a key industry in supporting the country to keep it going with supplies of food, raw materials, fuels - in fact virtually all imported goods.”

At the start of the year a major change affecting marine fuels came into force when the sulphur content was reduced to 0.5 per cent.

Mr Shaw said: “It was a huge last step in a legislative process which had gone on for 15 years. As a result within the marine industry there was a very great level of increased concern.

"That had resulted in a 40 per cent increase in workload in January and, as then as the global impact of coronavirus began to be felt the company’s workload 'went through the roof”. “

To keep its vital service operating when the UK went into lockdown, the company’s administrative staff, about a quarter of the people employed in the Teesside operation, started working from home.

That, however, was not an option for the scientists and technicians who test the samples in the company’s laboratories.

So, as well having to keep two metres apart, urgent measures were introduced overnight to ensure they could safely carry out their procedures but within the parameters laid out under Covid guidelines and restrictions.

The new ways of working proved so successful that it is likely some new processes will remain in place.