Difference between Demurrage and Detention

Demurrage and detention are two words that often confuses people.. Is there a difference..??

When dealt with in the context of containerised cargo, simply put,

  • Demurrage relates to cargo
  • Detention relates to equipment

Elaboration : Imports – A container is discharged off a ship on the 2nd July – Consignee approaches the shipping line to take delivery of the cargo around 12th July.. Working off a standard 7 free days from date of discharge, the line free days (different to port free days) expires on the 8th July.. So, the line will charge the consignee DEMURRAGE for 4 days from 9th to 12th July at the rate fixed by the line..

After the full container has been picked up by the client, for example if they take another 7 days to return the empty container, then it is known as DETENTION which again will be charged at the rate fixed by the line..

So basically before the full container is picked up, Demurrage is charged and after the container has been picked up, till the time the empty is returned to the lines nominated depot, Detention is charged..

Exports : In the case of exports, normally lines give about 5 free days within which the shipper has to pick up the empty, pack it and return it full to the port.. In case of delays more than 5 days, the line charges Detention (generally same tariff as import detention) for the days that the empty is kept with the client as empty or full..

Once the container is packed and say for example the shipper is unable to ship the same due to any reason, then the Demurrage will be charged at the rate fixed by the line till the full container is shipped out..

What I have mentioned above is the generic and most common form of use of these two terms.. There however is a difference in the usage of these terms by the various shipping lines in various countries.. Some countries they call it combined demurrage/detention, some countries it is shown separately..

Best option would be to check in your country how these terms are defined..

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  1. I think last answer is very misguided. Both detention and demurrage start from discharge of containers.

    Detention is time allotment given by the SHIPPING LINE to the customer to return the empty container back to depot.

    Demurrage is time allotment given by the PORT OR TERMINAL to REMOVE empty container from their premises.

    The two are not related, rarely get paid to the same entity, and cover completely different situations.

    Example: Free time: Demurrage: 5 days / Detention 15 days. You must remove full container from the port storage within 5 days of discharge, but you have an additional 10 days before you have to return the empty back to the shipping line.

  2. when exactly does free detention time start? from the date the container is picked up form the port of from the time the vessel arrives at discharge port?

    • Hi Baseerat, the answer to this question depends on the shipping line, what they define as detention and also the country as demurrage and detention varies in definition, in quantum and in time from country to country and shipping line to shipping line.. There is no global or universal definition to it.. Generally demurrage commences from expiry of free days set by the shipping line.. Once container is empty, detention will start till the empty is delivered back to the lines nominated depot..

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