Demurrage and Detention Charges: Understanding the Difference

containers at port terminal

Detention and demurrage charges are among the most common late fees for shipping containers and pose significant challenges for professionals throughout the global supply chain industry. Understanding the differences between these fees and how to manage them is crucial for efficient logistics planning.

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) reported that between 2020 and 2022, nine of the largest carriers serving the U.S. liner trades charged nearly $8.9 billion in demurrage and detention fees, collecting about $6.9 billion. These charges are in addition to the expected freight charges and highlight the significant financial impact on cargo shippers and ocean carriers​​​​. These charges add to the overall cost of shipping, emphasizing the importance of effective logistics management​.

Demurrage vs. Detention in Container Shipping

Both demurrage and detention fees are late fees levied by the shipping company and come with a designated free time period. These fees can strain relationships and cause financial burdens for shippers and carriers alike. On the ocean shipping side, demurrage and detention charges can exceed the value of the container itself.

Differentiating Demurrage and Detention Fees

  • Demurrage Fees: These are assessed when loaded containers remain within the port beyond the designated free time. Demurrage charges are applied to containers inside the terminal.
  • Detention Fees: These charges apply after the importer has picked up and unpacked a shipment and has not returned the empty containers within the allowed free time. Detention charges are applied to containers outside the port.

Key Differences

Demurrage charges typically come with shorter free periods compared to detention charges, which often allow for a longer duration. However, some exceptions exist where both demurrage and detention fees can be incurred simultaneously if the equipment is used beyond the free time while still at the port or terminal.

containers at port terminal

What Are Demurrage Fees?

When cargo arrives at a port or terminal, it is allotted a set period of free time, known as laytime, during which it can remain unpacked. If the container exceeds this free time, demurrage charges are incurred. It’s crucial to manage your shipments effectively to avoid surpassing the last free day, which would trigger these charges.

Calculating Demurrage Fees

Demurrage fees are calculated based on:

  • The demurrage rate, typically expressed as “Per Day Pro-Rata” (PDPR)
  • The number of days or parts of days the container exceeds the free time

For example, if the demurrage rate is $200 PDPR and the container exceeds the free time by 3 days, the total demurrage charges would be $600. Additionally, understanding chassis days is important as it refers to the time a chassis is used to move the container, which can also incur charges if exceeded.

Causes of Demurrage Charges

Common causes of demurrage charges include:

  • Port congestion
  • Delays in customs clearance
  • Inadequate supply of truckers
  • Contractual issues
  • Adverse weather conditions

Even with proactive planning, some of these causes are unavoidable. However, there are strategies to mitigate these charges.

Avoiding Demurrage Fees

To avoid demurrage charges, proactive planning and communication are essential. Here are some strategies:

  • Secure customs clearance prior to shipment arrival
  • Ensure all documentation is accurate and readily accessible
  • Pay duties in advance
  • Communicate with inland carriers and provide delivery instructions in advance
  • Have a backup carrier on standby, especially in busy ports

Demurrage vs. Port Storage Fees

While both demurrage and port storage fees apply to unpacked shipments exceeding free time, demurrage charges are levied by the shipping company, whereas port storage charges are imposed by the port. The periods of free time can vary between the shipping company and the port.

What Are Detention Fees?

Detention charges apply to containers held outside the port for longer than the allowed free time. For truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments, detention typically refers to the time a driver spends waiting at a customer facility. In maritime freight, detention charges are imposed if an importer fails to return the empty container within the specified time frame. Monitoring the last free day is essential to avoid these charges.

Why Are Driver Detention Fees Charged?

Detention fees compensate carriers for the time their drivers are unable to be on the road due to delays at loading or unloading locations. These fees offset potential losses and encourage timely operations. Per diem fees are often applied in these scenarios to cover the costs associated with extended waiting times for truckers.

Tips to Avoid Detention Fees

Avoiding detention charges involves preparation and coordination:

  • Be aware of the allowable free days and plan accordingly
  • Communicate with the trucking company well in advance
  • Use supply chain visibility tools to track shipments in real-time and anticipate delays

How 3PL Center Can Help

At 3PL Center, we understand the complexities involved in logistics and the importance of minimizing additional costs like demurrage and detention. Our comprehensive drayage services are designed to streamline the movement of goods and reduce the likelihood of delays.

Efficient Drayage Solutions

Drayage involves the transport of goods over short distances, typically from ports to warehouses. Our advanced drayage solutions offer complete visibility and transparency throughout the entire process. Our WMS includes tracking features that allow customers to monitor their containers from pickup to delivery.

Advanced Tracking and Visibility

Our Warehouse Management System (WMS) provides real-time updates on shipment status, ensuring you are always informed about the location and condition of your cargo. This reduces the risk of demurrage caused by unforeseen delays.

Strategic Warehouse Locations

3PL Center’s strategically located warehouses across the country enable us to provide efficient and timely delivery services, minimizing transit times and reducing the likelihood of demurrage charges due to prolonged storage at ports.

Comprehensive Inventory Management

Our WMS also offers robust inventory management tools, allowing you to track, report, and manage your stock effectively. This ensures that your cargo is always in the right place at the right time, further minimizing the risk of demurrage.

Effective Strategies for Managing Demurrage and Detention Charges

Understanding and managing demurrage and detention charges is essential for optimizing logistics operations. At 3PL Center, we provide solutions that help you avoid unnecessary costs and streamline your supply chain. Our advanced drayage services, strategic warehouse locations, and comprehensive tracking features ensure that your cargo moves efficiently, minimizing the risk of demurrage and detention fees and enhancing overall operational efficiency.

For more information about how 3PL Center can help your business manage logistics and avoid demurrage and detention charges, contact us today.


Demurrage and Detention FAQs

What is the difference between demurrage and per diem fees?

Demurrage fees are charges applied when a container remains at the port or terminal beyond the allotted free time, whereas per diem fees are daily charges incurred when a trucker or shipper holds onto equipment, such as a chassis or container, beyond the agreed period. Per diem fees are often associated with the time a trucker spends waiting at a customer facility or the extended use of the carrier’s equipment.

How can technology help in avoiding demurrage and detention charges?

Technology, such as supply chain visibility software and advanced tracking systems, can significantly help in avoiding demurrage and detention charges. Our advanced WMS has these tools to provide real-time updates on the status and location of shipments, allowing businesses to plan better and respond quickly to any delays or issues. Automated alerts and data analytics can also identify potential problems before they lead to costly fees.

Are demurrage and detention charges refundable if delays are caused by external factors like weather?

In most cases, demurrage and detention charges are not refundable, even if the delays are due to external factors like adverse weather conditions or port congestion. However, some shipping companies may offer waivers or extensions in exceptional circumstances. It is essential to review the terms and conditions of your shipping contract and communicate with your carrier to understand their policies regarding unforeseen delays.


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