Difference between Demurrage and Detention

Import demurrage, export detention, import demurrage and detention are some of the terms that importers, exporters, freight forwarders etc come across on a regular basis..

There seems to be a lot of confusion in understanding the difference between demurrage and detention..

This is one of the most frequently asked questions relating to a container shipment..

Shipping and freight can be full of surprises and variables in terms of costs for a customer..

In a lot of cases, these costs maybe highly prohibitive to the extent of some customers abandoning cargoes at destination due to these costs..

In the context of containerised cargo these two cost items DEMURRAGE and DETENTION are crucial and could become a huge problem for the customers if they do not control their shipments properly and effectively..

Demurrage and detention is mostly associated with imports although it may happen in the case of exports as well..

In this article I will explain, What is demurrage and detention, why is it charged, who charges it and who pays for it with some examples..

Although the most common market practice is to combine demurrage and detention, it is important to know the difference between demurrage and detention..

What is Demurrage..??

Demurrage, is a charge levied by the shipping line to the importer in cases where they have not taken delivery of the full container and move it out of the port/terminal area for unpacking within the allowed free days..

Example :

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..

Difference between demurrage and detentionIf we consider the standard free days offered by the shipping line (different to port free days) as 7 days from date of discharge, the free days will expire on the 8th of July..

As of the 12th July, the box would have been sitting in the port/terminal for a total of 11 days..

11 days dwell time – 7 free days = 4 days that the box has overstayed its welcome in the port/terminal..

So, the line will be eligible to charge the consignee DEMURRAGE for 4 days from 9th to 12th July at a rate fixed by the line..

So what is Detention then..!!

Detention is a charge levied by the shipping line to the importer in cases where they have taken the full container for unpacking (let’s say within the free days) but have not returned the empty container to the nominated empty depot before the expiry of the free days allowed..

Example : 

So in the above example, the customer took the full box out of the port/terminal on the 7th of July which is within the free days (expiring on the 8th of July), but returned the empty container to the line’s nominated depot only on the 19th of July..

So the line will be eligible to charge the consignee DETENTION for 11 days from the 9th July (after expiry of free days) till the 19th July at the rate fixed by the line..

If you request additional free days from the shipping line they would usually ask if it is for demurrage or detention which means they want to ascertain whether the customer is going to be keeping the container with them before or after moving it out of the port/terminal.. Also in various destination ports, the definition of demurrage and detention varies and hence the line needs to know where their exposure lies..

Shipping lines very rarely offer free days for either demurrage only or detention only.. If the free days is shown as just “free days” it usually refers to “combined demurrage/detention” which is what most of the shipping lines apply..

If “x” free days offered for demurrage only, then that means that the client has “x” free days to pick up the full container after which the empty has to be returned the same day to avoid costs..

If “x” free days offered for detention only, then that means that the client can use the “x” free days to unpack the container and take it back to the depot.. They might have some unpacking problems at their warehouse which necessitates such requests..


So what about exports..??

Exports : In the case of exports, shipping lines normally 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..

Difference between demurrage and detentionOnce 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 demurrage and detention..

In some countries like Saudi Arabia and Japan, the term demurrage seems to be used to denote storage in the port/lines terminal..

But in the majority of the countries there is a difference between demurrage and storage.. The best option would be for you to check with the shipping line in your country how these terms are defined..

So why does the shipping line charge demurrage and detention

In a container shipping line operation, the cost of the container, repair, maintenance, leasing etc works out to around 20% of the shipping line’s cost.. A container, like a ship, will make money for its owner only when it is in circulation and not when it is idle..

In the above case, the container stayed for an extra 11 days with the consignee.. This means for those 11 days the container was out of the control of the shipping line which meant that this particular container did not yield any revenue for the shipping line for these 11 days..

The charging of the demurrage and detention by the shipping line is their way of getting some compensation for the period that this container was out of the revenue generating cycle..

Who pays for it..?? 

Well in the case of imports, the consignee would be liable for the same and in the case of exports, the shipper would be liable for the same.. There could however be cases where the consignee could not clear the container because they didn’t receive the relevant documents from the shipper in time.. In such cases, the consignee would look to the shipper for compensation, but for the shipping line, this is revenue lost and they need someone to pay for it..

So in summary,

  • Shipping line offers X days as free for the full to be picked up and empty returned in the case of imports and vice versa for exports
  • This means the client has X days to pick up the full container and return the empty to the nominated depot and vice versa for exports
  • If the time frame exceeds X days, then the shipping line will bill the client for those many days that the container was in the custody of either the consignee or the shipper
  • Demurrage relates to cargo (while the cargo is in the container)
  • Detention relates to equipment (while the container is empty after unpacking or before packing)

How are these terms handled and dealt in your country..?? Please do share for the benefit of all..


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131 comments on “Difference between Demurrage and Detention”

  1. By IExp Reply

    if the customer has absconded because the demmurage and detention is way too high – who is responsible for payment? Will the line chase the sender or is the FF/ Agent at fault?

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  4. By Farid Habib Reply

    This is very helpful as most people in this field did not know the difference and how the terminologies work. Thnks for the educative information.

  5. By Osei Amankwah Reply

    Waving demurrage/detention charges for importers/exporters will have cost effect on the shipping line as it will attract more clients using that line; thereby increasing their volumes; therefore having comparative advantage over other lines and staying in business.

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  7. By Sukumaran Reply

    Dear Hariesh, I am working in an insurance company. A shipping association approached me for insurance covers for container detention, demurrage and storage charges. This type of insurance is something new. If you have any guidance or policy samples that I could learn more would be very helpful. Thank you.
    From Sugu.

  8. By Sumit gupta Reply

    Hello everyone I would like to ask if import cargo arrived and custom officials are not clear for clarification of goods then they drew samples on that case shipping line can agree more free days if they announced 14 free days if yes please suggest me the way ?

  9. By Pritesh Pathak Reply

    Hey, I disagree.

    Detention is charge levied by SHIPPING LINE for not returning it back post free time. It is levied because containers are detained for long.

    Demurrage is levied by Port / CFS Authority for keeping containers in port’s/ CFS post free days. It is also called ground rent.

  10. By Victor Burton Ettenbourough Reply

    Good article. Clear on detention and demurrage.
    However I am still confused about the Free time at the port.
    For imports, let’s say I have 15 days DET + DEM combined given by shipping line, but my port only has 5 days free storage, then if I take out the container out of the port in 7 days, do I have to pay storage charges to the port?

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Thanks Victor.. Free time at the port is different from free time from the shipping line.. What the port offers is free time before they start charging you storage.. What the line offers is free time before they start charging you demurrage/detention.. So there is no connection between the two free times and one cannot be used in place of the other.. In any shipment – storage, demurrage and detention all three may be applicable..

      For example you could not clear the cargo from port because you didn’t get your shipping documents in time.. Say the clearance was delayed by 15 days and the delay overran the free days offered by the port (say 5 days) and the free days offered by the line (say 10 days).. You would then have to pay 10 days port storage to the port and 5 days demurrage to the line.. Now assume your unpacking was delayed and you returned the empty after 5 days.. So you will still be liable for 5 days detention from the line..

      So in this example you have paid storage, demurrage and detention..

      Trust this is clear.. Also read (https://shippingandfreightresource.com/difference-between-storage-and-demurrage/)

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  12. By Kannoly Manoharan Reply

    Good Article which explained the term demurrage and detention well .
    Regards/ Manohar

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  15. By Joseph Reply

    What happen if a shipper is not able to pay demurrage costs due to highly charged and the shipper has no other choice to abandon the cargo

    • By Kannoly Manoharan

      Such subject can only be negotiated and settled with shipping line and the customer. If container not cleared with in 90 days ( this may vary between countries / ports) the same can move for auction. In such cases, the shipping company seldom gets any money after deduction of port / customs expenses and charges from the auction proceeds. To avoid such situation, the shipping line try to negotiate with customer to settle in an amicable way rather than pushing it for long stay.

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  20. By Himanshu Jeena Reply

    Whenever any service is given to someone, some charges or amount is involve in it, to collect that amount debit note is prepared on behalf of it we will paid for that service. detention charges are those charges which can occurred to someone who who has picked the container & though the container is empty he has not returned it even after the free time is over.

  21. By nicole91oog Reply

    First to inform Carrier to void the original B/L. Then give Carrier a mortgage of about 1.5 or 2 times of cargo value. Also to announce (the loss of B/L) in the Paper with large calculation. Take this newspaper to Carrier to apply reissue MBL.

  22. By Mzwandile101 Reply

    it is very helpful to learn from the best the explanation and terminology are being explained easily I can also now have the insight of what is happening in the industry thanks for everything

  23. By kasach tola Reply

    Thank you Mr. Hariesh manaadiar for your brief explanation on these two terms and i understand in good manner. some company use these terms interchangeably and the meaning from one to another is seems different. and also i like to appreciate your blog and it helped me in understanding many shipping and freight terms. i think that i know more in the future from your blog. Thank u very much!!!!

  24. By Asha S V Reply

    I am from India. I have been handling import from Vietnam,China,Taiwan and so on. it took quite a long time for me to understand the difference between Demurrage and detention. finally negotiating with liner for free days extension from 14 to 21 days and even in container freight station free days extended from 3 to 14 days. Finally this circus helped in achieving “0” detention and Demmurage. Iit all depends on the volume and providing continuous business.

  25. By tanu Reply

    Hello Hariesh Manaadiar,
    I am doing a training on foreign remittance in which i am working on demurrage and detention charges. I am read your blog and its very helpful for me to understand but i have a question that their is any thing like if our cartoon is not release from port with the given time so our free days are not given to us?? and they charge demurrage charges for full days??

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Hello Tanu, if you are talking about cartons, then it would be LCL and for LCL there is no demurrage.. Demurrage will be only on full containers and Detention on empty containers.. Demurrage/Detention will never be on LCL cargo..

    • By Hariesh Manaadiar

      Port free days are different from line free days.. So if the container is stuck in the port due to any reason and you are out of line free days then line will charge demurrage/detention..

    • By tanu

      but on the port if we are late to receive our container than they are charge for the free days also??

  26. By EDWARD GAITHO Reply

    This is really helpful as many people in the Maritime industry are yet to understand the fact of this

  27. By Shak Reply

    Very informative… by the way can anyone help me to understand the liability of a container damages… if consignee found some damages to the floor of container while destuffing at their door… is there any written rule governing liabilities when equipment is found damaged

  28. By Rafael Reply

    As per my experience, liner is debiting demurrage as per above but depending of countries, port terminal will debit its own storage tariff (working with similar concept). So generally, you will pay storage (if applicable) to terminal at container pick up time and detention / demurrage (if applicable) at empty container delivery back to liner’s equipment depot. Am i correct?

  29. By Ly Reply

    Hi Hariesh

    Could you advise detention start calculate 01 day before cargo arrive port?

  30. By roslan Reply

    Nice blog and congrats to blog owner of having this kind of wonderful blog like this.
    since I am still new in this field, can anyone teach/share how the demurrage is calculated and relates with lay time. I have read/study but still confuse on when demurrage is actually incurred and to who/whom and how the compensation takes place or how they pay?
    If someone can deeply describe/discuss with some sample of timing also good for better understanding especially for newbie like.

    Later on, if still in doubt maybe i will keep giving some situation which require more clarification from the expert if ok.

    Thanks all 🙂

    ~ops, sorry also for my bad english language.