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HomeDemurrage and DetentionHow does demurrage, detention and port charges work..??

How does demurrage, detention and port charges work..??

Even though there are distinct differences between demurrage, detention and port charges, many are still oblivious to these differences and there have been several questions on this blog relating to these charges..

Let me explain how demurrage, detention and port charges work..

International Trade and Costs

demurrage, detention, port charges - shipping and freight resourceWhen it comes to international trade, majority of the buyers and sellers use Incoterms to decide on what each other’s responsibilities and liabilities are in terms of the business, especially related to costs..

Generally, there is very little room to manoeuvre in terms of additional and unbudgeted costs incurred on the shipment and therefore in their own interest it is important that the buyers and sellers take necessary precautions to ensure that all known costs relating to the business are discussed and finalised before the shipment commences..

There are many entities involved in the process of shipping a container from Point A to Point B, each with their own cost component, all of which have to be covered either by the seller or the buyer..

Demurrage, detention and port charges are just some of these costs that may be applicable in a shipment..

While some of the port charges are valid and unavoidable, demurrage, detention and some of the port charges (like port storage, early arrival, late arrival, amendment, shifting etc) are entirely avoidable if everyone in the chain follows the process that they need to follow..

What are port charges..??

Port charges, as the name suggests are a set of charges levied by the port or terminal which the container passes through..

In terms of container shipments, port charges may include but not limited to below :

Terminal Handling Charge (THC)

Is quite simply the charge levied by the port for the loading and discharging of a container from the ship.. THC differs from port to port, terminal to terminal around the world and is charged both by the load port and discharge port..

If the cargo is transhipped anywhere along the route, then the transhipment port also charges this THC but that is paid by the shipping line directly to the port and this quantum is usually included in the ocean freight charged by the line..

Early Arrival Charge

A charge levied by the port for a container that arrives in the terminal before the stacks into which it is to be taken has been opened.. The acceptance of early arrival containers is at the discretion of the Port/Terminal Operator..

Late Arrival Charge

A charge levied by the port for a container that arrives in the terminal after the stacks into which it is to be taken has been closed.. The acceptance of early arrival containers is at the discretion of the Port/Terminal Operator..

Shifting charges

A charge levied by the port for a container that needs to be shifted around within the stacks.. This usually happens when a container is brought in for one port/vessel, but there may have been a change of destination or change in ship or the container is required to be inspected..


Is an action taken during the load/discharge operation of a container ship wherein a container may be taken off the ship from one stow position and put back into the same or different stow position for purposes of cargo operation.. This may or may not involve placing the container on the quay..

This charge is usually for the account of the shipping line unless the shipping line is carrying out the restow operation due to a customer’s request for say incorrect stowage due to cargo misdeclaration or change of destination..


Charge levied by the port/terminal for amending or cancelling any documentation/activity lodged with them.. Example would be passing an amending document for change of destination of a container, or the export of that container needs to be stopped etc..

Port Storage

Is a charge levied by the port for the prolonged stay of a container at port after expiry of free days.. This may be charged for a full container that is uncleared (imports) or a full container yet to be shipped (exports) or for an empty container sitting in the port..

Different ports/terminals offer different days free of storage (free days) and this needs to be closely monitored as port charges could run into very heavy amounts..

Port storage may also happen for containers that were short shipped (for example a vessel terminates its operations and sails before schedule) or transhipment containers that have been sitting at the port for long awaiting a transhipment vessel..

Lift On/Lift Off 

Charge that may be levied by the port for additional handling done for containers that have already been received in the port for export or required to be moved to an area for inspection for imports etc..

Stuffing/Destuffing of Containers

Some ports/terminals allow the stuffing (packing)/destuffing (unpacking) of the containers within the port area and charge customers based on the port tariff..

This activity may happen at ports which provide CFS services and allow containers to be packed or unpacked in the port or due to some mistakes when the cargo was originally packed – say incompatible hazardous cargoes packed together..

Depending on the port/terminal/country, the port charges may be charged directly to the customer (importer or exporter) or to the shipping line, who in turn will charge this to the customer (importer or exporter)..

Of course, this is not the full list of port charges but these charges have been mentioned as it relates to the subject under discussion..

demurrage, detention and port charges

Demurrage and Detention

While some of these port charges may be unavoidable, demurrage and detention charges on the other hand are totally avoidable charges, but in a lot of cases due to mishandling, misunderstandings and not following the proper protocols, these charges occur..

When they do occur these charges may create quite a financial impact on the whole business and sometimes these costs could be so prohibitive that some customers abandon their cargoes at destination due to these costs..

Let us look at what is demurrage, detention, causes of demurrage and detention, why is it charged, who charges it and who pays for it ..

Although the most common market practice is to combine demurrage and detention, there are several cases where these are charged separately and therefore it is important to know the difference between demurrage and detention..

What is Demurrage/Detention..?? 


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 line free days..

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 allowed line free days..


The definition of “line free days” is the number of days allowed by the shipping line for the customer to pick up the full container for unpacking, take it to their warehouse, unpack and return the empty to the container depot nominated by the shipping line..

This free days is different from the “port free days” which is the number of days allowed by the port/terminal to keep the containers in the port/terminal area free, after which the port storage as published in the port/terminal tariff will apply..


Demurrage, Detention and Port Charges calculation scenario


Scenario : A container is discharged off a ship on the 2nd July.. Consignee takes release of the cargo from the port on 12th July and returns the empty to the nominated depot on the 19th of July..

  • Demurrage free days offered by the shipping line = 7 days
  • Detention free days offered by the shipping line = 10 days
  • Free days at port = 3 days

demurrage, detention, port charges


Demurrage calculation example:

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

As per above scenario, line free days for demurrage will expire on the 8th of July..

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..


Detention calculation example:

The full container moves out of port on the 12th, the customer returned the empty only on the 19th of July..

Detention free days = 10 days so this is valid till the 21st of July, but since the customer returned the empty on the 19th of July, DETENTION charges do not apply..


Port storage calculation example:

Using above dates, since the port only offers 3 free days which expired on the 4th of July , then there will be 8 days of port storage till the 12th of July to be paid alongwith the demurrage..

So in essence for this container, the customer would pay

  • Demurrage = 4 days (2nd July to 8th July is free, demurrage from 9th July to 12th July) – to the shipping line
  • Detention = 0 days (10 days free so 12th July to 21st July is free, empty returned on 19th July so no detention)
  • Port Storage = 8 days (2nd July to 4th July falls under port free days, so from 5th July to 12th July, 8 days of storage applicable) – to the port directly or via the shipping line


Combined demurrage/detention calculation example: 

In above example, if “combined demurrage/detention” principle was to be used, then

  • 7 line free days ends 8th July
  • Container moves out on the 12th July and empty returned on the 19th July
  • So there will be Demurrage/Detention for 11 days payable to the shipping line
  • Port Storage = 8 days (2nd July to 4th July falls under port free days, so from 5th July to 12th July, 8 days of storage applicable) – to the port directly or via the shipping line


If you request additional line free days from the shipping line they may ask if it is for demurrage or detention.. In various destination ports, the definition of demurrage and detention varies and hence the line needs to know where their exposure lies..

If the free days is shown as just “free days” it usually refers to “combined demurrage/detention” which is what a lot of the shipping lines apply to keep the calculations simple..

  • If “x” free days is 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 is 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..


Is demurrage and detention applicable for 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..

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 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 and free days 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..

But there are several discussions as to whether demurrage and detention charges are justified.. You can decide which side you are on..


Who pays for demurrage, detention, port charges..?? 

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,

There are several charges associated with a shipment and demurrage, detention, port charges can be considered as “unexpected, non-budgeted, uncosted, unforeseen” charges because no one in their right minds wants to incur these charges..

  • 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)
  • Port Charges relates to charges levied by the port/terminal some of which are unavoidable charges (like THC) which are known charges which form part of the costing of the entire shipment.. Some of the port charges are avoidable charges which can be avoided if the proper process is followed and these charges could wipe out the profits in a shipment as these are not budgeted or costed..
  • Demurrage and detention does not apply to LCL shipments and is applicable only for FCL shipments..

What practices do you follow to avoid demurrage, detention and port charges..?? 



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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. can you please recheck this example of “Combined demurrage/detention calculation example: ”
    the 2nd point which states that ” the container moves out at 9th july and empty returned on the 19th july ”
    but the above scenario says that the container was released by the customer on 12th and then returned empty on 19th . Please explain


  3. Ill speak for Australia but Detention is criminal.
    If only we could bring a class action against the carriers. When I started in this industry 25 years ago shipping lines provided 14 days free time , over the years it has been reduced now down to 7. To make matters worse they now count 7 days from date of discharge “the day the container comes off the ship” not the day its first available for collection. These same carriers who offer 7 days also include weekends and public holidays within this 7 day period. Even if we achieve the task of emptying 10 containers within 7 days we are then at the mercy of the empty container yards who reject the return because their yards are full. It’s a disgrace and something needs to be done. I have seen more detention bills totalling 5 figures over the past 3 months then my entire career.

    • Hi Cos, what solution do you propose for this..?? Carriers are also claiming they have costs associated with leaving empty or full containers with customers especially in this time of high demand for containers..

  4. Who is responsible for the late return of an empty container after import? A container has been devanned by a company on our behalf. They informed the FCL carrier of it’s availability for dehire and it was returned 7 days after the LFD, stating that there was no space available for dehire (there are congestion issues at the ports in NZ). We (the consignee) have consequently received detention charges by the shipping line.

    • Hi Dawn, ultimately, the receiver/consignee is the party liable for detention if the line’s container is turned in late.. However, in this case, since there is a genuine reason, you would need to make a special application to the line with sufficient proof of the reason for the delay.. In most cases, the lines would give some leniency..

  5. Certain ports operate 7 days a week and some ports operate 5 days a week. Does the concept of DM/DT and free days include working days only or weekends as well? Are liners and ports looking at the same watch?

  6. We stuff the container on 4.03.2020 for USA from Ludhiana and it was rail out on 7.03.2020 and arrived on 11.03.2020 at Mundra. The planned vessel was for 21.03.2020 and we got an email from our customer on 18.03.2020 to hold the shipment due to Covid -19 pandemic in USA and we immediately email the shipping line to hold the shipment. Till 30.04.2020 the shipment was in Mudra port and we waited for our customer to ship the goods, but there was no reply from our customer so we decided to take the goods back to town and the shipping line told us to deposit Rs 5 Lakhs as a security deposit for demur rage and detention charges, we requested them numerous times through email and tele calls to waive off the charges as the orders directed by DG shipping, but
    finally they denied to accept the orders by DG shipping and we were forced to pay the amount Rs 5 Lakhs. After that the container reached Ludhiana on 15th June and the shipping line send us an invoice of Rs 29 Lakhs ( approx ) with charges of ( ground rent + demur rage + detention ).
    In this case i want to ask you that why i have been charged ( damuage & detention ) all together from the day one till the date of destuffing the goods, either the shipping line can charge dammurage or Detention but not both. Please share your views

  7. Hi Hariesh

    thanks for the good article.
    I have a question about detention.
    We provide custom clearance for a few 40ft FCL to our consignee in Australia, we engaged our forwarder to do the clearance and deliver to the end customer on behalf of us.
    Now, shipping line is charging the end customer for detention and customer refused to pay it. He said it was not his responsibility.
    The last day for returning the containers on 29/4 but were dehired on 30/4.
    Customer claimed that they have informed the forwarder to collect on 29/4.
    Forwarder claimed that they need 48 hours notification to collect and de-hire the containers.
    So now the overdue bill is pushing around.
    Who should take up this responsibility? Who will inform the customer when to return or can the customer actually read the notice of return somewhere?

    Please enlighten me.

    Thank you in advance.


  8. Hi Hariesh,
    Are the methods for calculating demurrage/ detention for containers and demurrage/ detention for bulkers/ tankers same?

  9. Man, I have just found this site and I’m devouring every article, refreshing some old concepts, learning some new ones. Very well done my friend. Now, regarding port charges, one day you should do an article on how to deal with the “other port charges” when trading in dry/wet (and I suffered them in liners also).
    In some countries, specially in Argentina and Brazil, they are “charging” up to USD 40k per cargo holds approvals (Customs, unions, surveyors) you either pay or stay ballasting per another 10 days.. for what I know is usually paid by the captain with the money they hold in the safe.. but after that I don’t how it goes btwn charterers and shipowners .. can you please elaborate?
    Keep up the good work

  10. Hi there! I’m not familiar to Felixstowe. But current practice in Vietnam is that carrier/ forwarding port charges always higher than published daily storage charges as there is service arrangement between the carrier and terminal. You can not pay storage charges directly to terminal.

  11. Hi Hariesh Manaadiar. Very informative article. Thanks for sharing. Any chance you could help with a query please? I have had to defer a 40ft FCL export from Felixstowe. The logistics company I used is charging me over three times the published Port of Felixstowe published daily storage charges. Can I pay my storage costs directly to the port?

    • Hi James, wish I could help, but I don’t know the process in Felixstowe, so am not sure whether you can pay directly to port or not.. Each port has its own systems..

  12. Useful article which i came across trying to find an answer to the following:-

    If a port closes due to high winds so therefore the container cant be unloaded is it reasonable for the shipping line to charge the consignee demurrage?

    Its not the fault of anyone & is probably classed as an “act of god” but we have been landed with a huge bill & think it unfair that we should be responsible for it all!

    Any help appreciated

    • Hi Paul,

      If a port closes due to high winds so therefore the container cant be unloaded is it reasonable for the shipping line to charge the consignee demurrage?

      in terms of this question, shipping lines will charge demurrage only once container has already been discharged and not while it is on the ship..

      But if there are any weather based delays creating demurrage for the customers, shipping lines can also use same reasoning that weather is an act of god and why should they bear additional costs for container hire etc.. In these cases the best solution is to have an open and transparent discussion with the shipping lines so they may take some commercial decisions..

  13. Very informative article Harinesh,

    One quick question, If I import LCL (2-3 pallets). Within the same container there are products for other importers. When the container arrives @ port. I submit my documents but let’s assume one of the other importer that has his shipment in same container, doesn’t submit his documents. In that case is there any extra cost I’ll need to pay due to the delay caused by other importer?

    Thank you

  14. Good Day

    Thank you for the informative article
    I have a question related to this topic. Can a shipping line hold my shipment (not grant release) due to outstanding of detention/demurrage from a different shipment?

  15. Need one clarification regarding export demurrage.

    Customer picked up empty container, stuffed and returned to port/terminal with in 3 days, however customer has 5 days free time. Hence in this case port/terminal collect 2 days storage fee from customer for early container arrival? Please clarify.


  16. Our Clients use Ocean Insight’s software to get real-time alerts on containers that are stuck in port. This helps them take action as well as identify troublesome ports for avoiding future demurrage and detention fees.

  17. Late Arrival Charge

    A charge levied by the port for a container that arrives in the terminal after the stacks into which it is to be taken has been closed.. The acceptance of Late arrival containers is at the discretion of the Port/Terminal Operator..

  18. We take details of shipment in advance B/L, invoice packing list for import and try to file documents in customs for clearance after IGM is file one day before shipment arrival in LCL case as shipment is destuffed at CFS so we can take delivery on same day.


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