What is Demurrage and Detention in shipping terms?

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Reviewed by:

Maryana Serafinas

Maryana Serafinas


Are you a buyer seeking a comprehensive explainer on demurrage and detention? In this article, we will look at the intricacies of these terms, their connection, and the importance of understanding them.
Although demurrage and detention may entail charges, fear not! With proper logistics management, they become integral aspects of your cargo’s voyage, seamlessly contributing to the efficiency of global supply chains.

How Do Demurrage and Detention Differ?

Demurrage and detention are two terms frequently used in the logistics and shipping industry, and although they may seem similar, they represent distinct aspects of freight delay costs. Demurrage charges pertain to the additional fees you pay when cargo remains at the port beyond the allotted free time after unloading the shipment. This issue occurs when the import process is not completed promptly, causing cargo pickup delays. These charges serve as an incentive for customers to quickly clear their cargo from the port, thereby increasing port productivity and throughput.
On the other hand, detention refers to the charges levied when the shipping containers spend time outside of the terminal. Detention charges encourage the efficient use of containers, promoting their swift return so they are available again for shipping. Mismanagement of these aspects can lead to increased shipping costs, making it essential for businesses to understand and plan for potential demurrage and detention costs.
“Free days” refer to a pre-agreed period, typically starting from the day the cargo is unloaded (demurrage) or the day the empty container is picked up for loading (detention). This period allows shippers some flexibility to complete their processes without incurring extra costs. 

What are My Responsibilities as a Customer when Importing/Exporting Cargo?

Your container’s journey doesn’t end when it reaches its destination. As the customer, it’s your responsibility to return it to an agreed location, like the port or container terminal and depots, for reuse. Carriers must ensure equipment availability so the global container flow is uninterrupted.
Carriers impose demurrage and detention penalty charges if you exceed the free time allotted. For instance, if your full container waits too long at the destination terminal before being picked up or if you take too much time to return the empty container to the port.
It’s important to note that free time varies among ports and carriers. When booking shipments, keep an eye out for this! Atlantic Project Cargo prioritizes transparency and displays free time details along with prices, allowing you to plan your shipments more effectively. Need more time? Don’t worry! You can purchase extra detention days during your import booking, ensuring ample time to coordinate your cargo’s arrival at the desired destination.

How does Combined Demurrage and Detention Work?

Charging customers for delayed pickup or late return of discharged cargo or empty containers can be done through combined demurrage and detention charges. This method, also known as merged D&D, provides a specific timeframe to clear and return the container to the port or container depot. Unlike separate calculations, demurrage and detention charges are combined in this approach.
For instance, if the consignee receives 12 days of merged D&D, they must quickly clear and transport the goods to their warehouse, unload the freight, and return the empty container to the carrier within the specified timeframe.

Key Takeaways Concerning Container Detention & Demurrage

Here are some essential points to remember when it comes to container detention and demurrage:

  • Free Time refers to the number of days a supplier can use the container without incurring any fees. Anything beyond this period will result in additional charges. The free time differs between ports and carriers, making it worth watching out for when booking shipments!
  • Demurrage and Detention: Although separate, demurrage and detention are closely interconnected in your cargo’s journey.
  • Demurrage Charges: Demurrage charges are levied when a container remains inside a terminal for an extended period. These penalty fees act as a deterrent to prevent excessive storage of containers at the port.
  • Detention Period: Detention refers to the time a container stays outside of the port. If the consignee holds onto the carrier’s container beyond the allotted free time, detention fees will be imposed. In simpler terms, a detention charge applies when the container is not returned to the carrier on time.

Remember, understanding and managing container detention and demurrage can help streamline your logistics operations and avoid unnecessary costs. Reputable carriers like Atlantic Project Cargo, a leading importing/exporting freight forwarder, are transparent when it comes to free time. We show it with price details at the time of your booking so you can plan your shipments better. If the free time offered is not enough for you, you may purchase extra detention days at the time of your import booking with us so you have sufficient time to plan the arrival of your cargo at the desired destination.

Can I Reduce or Prevent Demurrage and Detention Charges?

Yes, container detention and demurrage charges can often be reduced or avoided with careful planning and timely execution. Proper understanding of shipping terms, efficient coordination with transport companies, and prompt clearance of goods at ports can significantly mitigate the risk of incurring these charges. However, unexpected circumstances may arise, making it necessary to negotiate terms with shipping companies that incorporate some flexibility.

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