Demurrage and Detention charges accrue to 20 times and more than the value of the container itself, according to the FIATA. Such per diem charges might be “unjust and unreasonable” for freight forwarders, but for shipping lines, they ensure the efficient use of their containers. These fines were rare ten years ago, but today they are quite common and can easily exceed $100 per container per day. That’s one of the most frustrating aspects of moving cargo and it must sometimes feel like terminals and carriers are intentionally looking for ways to inflate your bills. In principle, demurrage and detention have two main purposes: Compensation of the shipping line for the use of its container and incentive for the merchant to return an empty container and have a fast turnaround. With this post, we’re looking at the differences between demurrage and detention and break it down between import and export.

Definition: Demurrage & Detention

Per definition, Demurrage & Detention are a matter of allowed free-days, determining the number of days a shipper can use the container for free. If this free time is exceeded, the user has to pay a demurrage & detention charge, usually calculated per day.

Demurrage always relates to the time a container is inside a terminal while detention is a charge for extended use of the container until it gets empty returned to the shipping line.

Import Containers

detention and demurrage for imports

Demurrage refers to the time in port after arrival, when the full container has not been picked up and moved out of the terminal for unpacking by the consignee within the set free-days. For conventional shipping, the free-days are often somewhere between 3-5 days after the container has been discharged from the vessel to the terminal. Charges are applied for storage of the container until the container has been picked up and gated from the terminal. Usually, Demurrage must be paid before the cargo can be picked up from the port, you’ll often know about these fees early.

Detention refers to the time outside the port, where the consignee holds on to the carrier’s container beyond the allowed free-days. Thus, a detention charge is applied when the container has been picked up, but not returned to the carrier. That is done in an attempt to decrease the container’s turnaround time and make shipping more efficient.

Export Containers

demurrage and detention export

Demurrage charges occur when the container is with the shipping line but cannot be loaded on board of the vessel due to lack of documentation or other non-carrier related errors. In this case, the carrier will be unable to load the container to the scheduled vessel, and hence the container will have to stay in the port until the next departure. Demurrage charges are then applied to the storage period until the next scheduled vessel.

Detention in exports happens when the empty container has been picked up for loading and is not returned within the set free-days. Typically, shipping lines allow for 5 free-days to pick-up the container, load it and return it full to the port. Detention charges are applied to the extra days before the container returns to the terminal.

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Difference between Demurrage and Port Storage Charges?

Port storage charges are levied by the port for containers that have not been moved out of the port within a specified free-time and affect yard space and port productivity. Usually, every port offers a certain free period between three and seven days to process import requirements and pick-up the container from the port. Costs are quite excessive in some countries if consignees are unable to take delivery of their equipment. May it be because of financial, documentary or contractual problems, as soon as consignees exceed the allowed free days the containers affect yard space, port productivity and congestion. To encourage importers, take care of cargo clearance issues and pick-up containers on time, ports charge storage fees.

Port storage charges are collected for full containers that are uncleared for import, full containers yet to be shipped for exports or empty containers within the port. Different terminals offer different free days, but usually, charges get circulated by the port and are valid for one year. It gets collected directly by the port or via the shipping line that sometimes even moves the container to a private depot to avoid storage charges for the customer.

For Instance, the port storage charges at Antwerp are free for the first 7 days and start at € 10 for 20′ and € 20 for 40 ‘ and increases every 4 days. 

However, it is slightly different from demurrage and detention charges. Shipping lines charge demurrage fees when clearance is delayed. Customers sometimes forget that port charges are levied by the port and just collected from the customer via the shipping line. It is possible that you have to pay both demurrage and port storage fees at the same time. 


How do Demurrage charges emerge?

Such charges arise because of poor planning or unforeseen circumstances and mega-ships flooding terminals with containers does not make it easier for the consignee. Common examples include incorrect or lost documents, customs clearance and external impacts such as congestion or for instance a shortage of chassis. Especially with all the documentation required to move cargo from point a to point b it is most important to be prepared and on time. Per diem charges quickly emerge when there are discrepancies in the address details, voyage details and cargo or freight particulars. The worst-case obviously is when you lose important documents!

Customs are another source for high per diem charges as they require certain documents and need time to verify the origin of goods. Important is that the details on the customs documents match with the details on a commercial invoice submitted along with the customs clearance documents. A more external source of delay you can’t control is (port and terminal) congestion, the lack of drivers or the shortage of chassis. It really comes down to the individual situation, but ports have different hinterland connections, warehouses and infrastructure which can make it impossible to return a container within a given timeframe.

demurrage charges for containers at a terminal

Demurrage calculation: How expensive is it? 

Demurrage = (Total Days – Free days) x per diem charge

To calculate the amount payable to the shipping line, demurrage is calculated by per-diem costs multiplied by the number of days in excess of agreed free time. In the example below for a 20ft. container, the allowed free days are 5, but arrival and collection date are 25 days apart. Demurrage charges usually increase over time! In the given example, the carrier charges $60 per day for the first 10 days and $120 from day 11on. And sometimes, carriers even charge up to $400 per container per day …

demurrage calculation


Demurrage charges in customs

Different countries apply different definitions and regulations, so make sure to inform yourself and read the contract with your carrier carefully. Although most customs processes are similar, make sure you stay up to date with port regulation and customs to avoid demurrage charges. Demurrage charges in customs can arise easily, as you can see in the example from below:

  • The job to file clearance documents was given to an agent on August 4
  • The declaration was filed on August 15
  • Customs could not find required transport documents in the container and issued a show-cause notice on August 17
  • The declaration of the importer regarding imported goods was not accepted by the customs and additional documents were demanded on August 19
  • The duty demand was finalized on August 20 and an additional customs duty was assessed on the ground that goods did not conform to the description given in the good declaration by the customs examination
  • This examination report was contested by the importer and on his insistence, the sample of goods was sent for a chemical examination that confirmed that the importer’s declaration was correct, accordingly the additional customs duty demand was withdrawn on October 7

As you can see, that’s more than 1.5 months in the exceeded amount of free days which causes thousands of dollars in demurrage charges caused in customs alone. Such charges arise because of poor planning, unforeseen circumstances or bad communication. Always make sure that documents are correct, and that the consignee receives them on time.

Country Focus: Demurrage charges in India

India, with its long coastline, has some of the busiest ports in the world, and thereby deals with issues such as port congestion, inadequate facilities to work with incoming ships and shippers end up paying demurrage charges. A document released by the Mumbai port trust lists some of the scenarios when and when not, demurrage will be charged.

As we know already, that the ship has few free-days before demurrage is charged. The free-days at the Mumbai port exclude Sundays, Customs holidays and the port’s non-working days. Once the free-days expire demurrage will be charged on all goods that have not been cleared. Mails, post parcels, diplomatic postal bags, and personal bags irrespective of the weight are excluded from demurrage.

Class of goodsChargedRate from 1st day
to 20th day
Rate from 21st day
to 40th day
Rate from 40th
day onwards
All the goods listed in the wharfage schedulePer tonne per day or part thereof₹ 37.50₹56.25₹75.00

The list of goods in the wharfage schedule can be found here.

Demurrage charges when detained by the Indian Customs:

  • Demurrage charges can be recovered if the goods were detained by the customs for analysis or technical testing of the goods other than the normal appraisement, or if the goods are detained due to Import control formalities
1st day to the 30th day20% of the applicable demurrage
31st day to the 60th day50% of the applicable demurrage
From the 60th day onwards100% of the applicable demurrage


  • Demurrage is charged on the gross weight of the cargo, usually per 100 kgs.
  • Demurrage is charged on ‘shut out’ cargo from the day it arrives at the docks till it is removed. Shut our cargo is cargo that the importer doesn’t require anymore and must be sent back to the exporter. It must be removed from the docks within 3 days of its arrival, if not it will be removed by the port authorities at the expense of the exporters.

These are some of the common scenarios of demurrage charges. These charges and scenarios may vary slightly from port to port in India.

Indian port with containers


How to avoid Demurrage & Detention?

Demurrage and detention are in most cases out of your hands and hard to control, however, there are multiple ways to mitigate the risk of the unpleasant additional charges. Try to negotiate instead of accepting a quote as it is. Negotiate with port officials or carriers, for instance, request more free-days for your cargo and thereby save demurrage and detention. This will buy you some more time and might work as a strategy to avoid unexpected charges. Often, port officials grant shippers with large volume of cargo some more time.

Further, ensure that you are aware of the customs process and port regulations in the particular location your goods are headed. Most importantly, dispatch your cargo as far in advance as you can! This gives you more flexibility to unforeseen challenges, such as bad weather or backlogs at the port. The same is applicable to loading/unloading times, where just small-time buffers can do the trick.

Talking about time-buffers, it is important to be 100% sure about what “available” means. Is it available as soon as it is off the vessel or only when a truck can actually pick-up your equipment? For some ports a container is available as soon as it hits the ground and others argue that it needs to be accessible to be available. However, even though it causes confusion, it all comes down to the contract you sign! In the end, shippers are almost always responsible for per diem fees.

Difference between demurrage and detention

Avoid tremendous demurrage detention charges with SOC Containers

SOC containers belong to the shipper and can help you avoid demurrage & detention charges. You basically just borrow equipment from a container owner, use it for one-way use and return it at your partner’s depot at the port of destination. That’s most of the time for free because container owners are not (only) interested in a quick turnaround. They want you to reposition their equipment so that they can keep a good balance and therefore charge almost no per-diem fees. We at Container xChange help you find SOC Containers in more than 2500 worldwide – just reach out to us and find (almost free) equipment wherever you need it!

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