Understanding the Difference Between Demurrage and Detention in Shipping

Understanding the Difference Between Demurrage and Detention in Shipping

Navigating the complexities of international shipping involves understanding various fees, including demurrage and detention. These terms are often used interchangeably but represent different types of charges in the logistics and shipping industry. Let’s explore what each term means and how they impact the shipping process.

Understanding the Difference Between Demurrage and Detention in Shipping

What is Demurrage?

Demurrage refers to the charges incurred when cargo or containers remain at a shipping terminal beyond the allotted free time. The free time period is provided by the terminal for cargo unloading without extra charges. Demurrage fees are levied to compensate for the occupied space and the delayed return of containers.

  • Scenario for Demurrage: This charge applies when imported goods sit at the destination port beyond the free storage period provided by the port. If the goods are not picked up within this timeframe, the terminal will begin charging demurrage fees.
  • Calculation of Demurrage: These fees are typically calculated on a daily basis, escalating as the container remains at the port longer than the agreed-upon period.

What is Detention?

Detention fees, on the other hand, are charged when a container is not returned to a designated location, such as a seaport or container yard, within the specified free time after pickup. These fees are imposed by the shipping line to cover the potential revenue loss due to the unavailability of the container for other shipments.

  • Scenario for Detention: This fee is incurred when the consignee fails to return the empty container to the stipulated area within the allowed free time after unloading the goods.
  • Calculation of Detention: Like demurrage, detention fees are calculated daily and increase the longer the container remains with the consignee beyond the free period.

Key Differences Between Demurrage and Detention

While both fees involve additional charges for delays, their contexts differ significantly:

  • Incurrence of Charges:
    • Demurrage: Occurs within the port or terminal due to delays in cargo pickup.
    • Detention: Happens outside the port when containers are not returned on time.
  • Entity Charging the Fees:
    • Demurrage: Charged by the port or terminal operators.
    • Detention: Levied by the shipping company or the container leasing company.
  • Related to:
    • Demurrage: Linked to the free storage period at the port.
    • Detention: Associated with the free usage period offered by the shipping line.

Conclusion: Navigating Demurrage and Detention Charges

Understanding the distinctions between demurrage, detention, and free storage is critical for efficiently managing logistics costs and avoiding unnecessary expenses. By being aware of the terms and conditions associated with these fees, shippers can better plan their operations and negotiate terms that safeguard their interests.

Always ensure that the terms regarding demurrage and detention are clear before finalizing shipping contracts to prevent disputes and manage costs effectively.

VGM Error Tolerance Range in SOLAS Requirements


The SOLAS convention allows for a small margin of error in the reported VGM of a container. The error tolerance range is within +/- 5% or 1 ton (whichever is smaller), accounting for minor discrepancies in weighing equipment or calculation errors.

Frequently Asked Questions About Demurrage Charges


What is a demurrage charge?

Demurrage charges are fees incurred when a container remains within a terminal beyond the allocated free time period. This charge is typically paid by the merchant or shipper for the extended use of the container at the terminal.


Who is responsible for paying demurrage charges?

Demurrage charges are usually imposed by the terminal or port authority where the containers are stored. The responsibility for paying these charges generally falls on the shipper, who owns the containers and has control over the shipping process.


Can you provide an example of a demurrage scenario in shipping?

Certainly! Consider a scenario where a laden container is not picked up from the destination terminal within the allotted free time. For instance, if the free time is 7 days and the container is picked up on the 12th day, demurrage charges will apply for the 5 calendar days beyond the free period. Similarly, detention charges may apply if the empty container is not returned to the port within the specified free time after unloading.


How long is the free demurrage period typically granted by carriers?

The free demurrage period can vary significantly depending on the carrier and the specific trade lane. Commonly, carriers may offer around 7 days of free time, after which demurrage charges will start accruing. It’s important to note that the duration of free time and the rate of demurrage can differ from one shipping line to another and may also depend on the contractual terms agreed upon by the parties involved.


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