Demurrage and detention are terms that are often confused by importers and exporters. The terms are easily explained when broken down between import containers and export containers.
Demurrage in Import Containers
Demurrage fees become applicable in import when containers contain cargo and are with the
shipping line because the consignees have not yet picked up the cargo, and the demurrage-free time given by the charter owners has already expired. The free period usually starts when the cargo containers have been discharged from the ship to the terminal. In simple terms, demurrage is charged for the storage of the containers before being picked up and discharged from the terminal.
Detention in Import Containers
Detention fees are charged when the cargo containers have been picked up by consignees at
the terminal, but the containers have not yet been returned to the shipping line within the time allotted. Detention-waiver days are also allowed by the line, but if the consignee takes longer than that time to return the containers(whether empty or full), the detention charges come into play.
Demurrage in Export Containers
Demurrage charges on export containers are levied when the loaded containers have been put back under the charge of the steamship line by the exporter, but the shipment is held up due to delays beyond the allotted free time. The delays may occur if the exporter is unable to fulfill the export documentation within the given time, for instance.
Detention in Export Containers
Export containers levy detention fees after the empty containers have already been picked up for loading but the loaded containers are returned to the steamship line and port only after the free allotted time.
Demurrage and detention charges are usually shared by the line, the storage warehouse, the terminal port etc., depending on their individual rules. FCL carriers may give 7 days of demurrage waivers and 14 days of detention waivers for both import and export legs of the journey. But most of the time fewer demurrage and detention free days are allowed, but the exact number of days varies across carriers and ports. Some inland ports like Toronto offers only one free demurrage. US base ports typically allow 3-5 days of free demurrage while US inland ports allow 3 days at most.