Demurrage Charges: Definition and 10 Tips to avoid them

22 Aug 2017 4 min read
Michael Ardelt Michael Ardelt

Demurrage Definition: What is demurrage?

Delays in shipping are commonplace and as a result, customers may incur a multitude of extra charges which they have not catered for. One such extra charge is the Demurrage charge.

“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 free days.”

Demurrage charges can vary country to country as well as by carrier. To complicate matters further, fees are applied per container as well as per day after a designated free time which varies from carrier to carrier.

Demurrage may be caused due to a variety of reasons. Common among them are

  • Consignee did not receive the documents in time for customs clearance
  • Documentation received by consignee is incorrect or insufficient
  • Container has been stopped by customer, police or other authorities for inspection of the cargo which may take longer than expected
  • Consignee was unaware of the arrival of the cargo and was unable to do the customs clearance in time
  • Consignee does not have the finances in order to clear the container in time
  • Dispute between shipper and consignee
  • Cargo received was not as per the sales order

Although these reasons may not be attributed to one entity like the consignee or shipper, usually the onus of demurrage and settlement of the same falls upon the consignee.

Demurrage is an avoidable cost but if not controlled, charges can soon overtake the price of the goods which will leave many consignees no option but to abandon the cargo.

As a simple example, take a customer who imports 10×40’ containers of furniture, but the containers cannot be cleared due to non-availability of correct documentation.

Let’s say the shipping line’s demurrage charge is USD 120/40’/day for the first 10 days after the expiry of free days.

If these containers stand for a period of say 7 days after the expiry of free days, these 10×40’ will incur a demurrage of US$ 120 x 10 x 7 = US$ 8400/- purely due to documentary delays.

As can be seen, any delays caused due to the above reasons will result in extra and avoidable costs for you.

10 tips to avoid demurrage charges

So, if you are the consignee, here are 10 tips to avoid demurrage charges

  1. If you are a first-time importer, understand the do’s and don’ts as a first-time importer.
  2. Identify if there are any special requirements for the import of your cargo which may be held by customs or other authorities.
  3. If you have identified that your cargo requires some special permissions (like foodstuff, animal products etc) then consider requesting the shipping line and/or shipper to arrange for extra free days to cater for this potential delay.
  4. Ensure that you have seen the product that you are buying so you don’t have a problem when it arrives and it doesn’t match your expectation.
  5. Ensure that you communicate clearly and regularly with your shipper and the shipping line about the status of the shipping documents and the shipment respectively. Shipping lines generally do not accept liability for non-notification of your cargo’s arrival.
  6. If your shipment is under a Letter of Credit, then it is imperative that the time taken for the communication with the banks and the release of documents is considered.
  7. If your shipment is not under a Letter of Credit or if you do not require an original bill of lading, then consider asking the shipper to use an Express Release instead of an Original Bill of Lading to avoid any delays waiting for an Original Bill of Lading.
  8. If the shipper insists on an Original Bill of Lading in order to safeguard his payment, then once he is paid, arrange with him to secure a Telex Release to avoid any delays waiting for an Original Bill of Lading.
  9. Share cargo and shipment delivery instructions with all parties including the carrier, vendors and third-party providers in advance for a smooth loading and unloading process and to avoid any delays.
  10. Employ the services of a professional freight forwarder who can then keep an eye on the shipment for you and ensure that your cargo arrives in time without any additional costs especially demurrage.

As noted previously, proper planning is important. While demurrage is levied by the shipping line in case of late container clearance and return, the ports and terminals will also charge the customer Port Storage Charges.

Depending on the terms of sale and the terms of delivery, the choice of the port and routing to be used also becomes important. For example, certain inland locations in Europe may be accessed through Hamburg or Rotterdam port.

But if one considers port storage, using Rotterdam may be a better option for some customers compared to Hamburg. For example, Hamburg’s Port Authority is very strict in allowing for only three days in free storage whereas Rotterdam is willing to negotiate; it also rarely offers less than five days of free storage.

Conclusion

There are several charges involved in an ocean freight shipment and it is easy for a customer to get confused with the plethora of charges involved and the various places that these charges need to be paid.
Apart from unraveling the secrets of a freight rate sheet, the customer also needs to be aware of charges such as demurrage and storage which may be hidden in open view in some of the cases and take necessary steps to avoid these charges.

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22 Aug 2017 4 min read
Michael Ardelt

Michael Ardelt

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  1. BRILLIANT ARTICLE HAVE REALLY LEARNED A LOT, in our organisation here in africa we are facing the same demurrage problem almost every day due to poor planning and avoiding such charges has almost been impossible.

    Thank you

  2. The importer must be aware of the import compliance and regulations well before the arrival of the goods. Advisably he can contact the customs with product catalogues, classification and check what documents or additional information/certifications may be required from other controlling authorities. Simply ask the clearance agent if he has handled import of this classification before. For most part, it is the inadequacy of information — and the customs authorities are not convinced. Importers must not rely on the exporter’s classification. As for the actual demurrages we cannot have any complaint — it is written in black and white — better one is aware of the charges too..in advance..! Also demurrages have nothing to do with the shipping company as most shipping companies expressly state that they would not be responsible for delays as also shipping insurance does not cover delays. Demurrages have to be paid to the import authorities, mostly government departments and better understanding should enable one to build relationships to make future imports easier and faster.

  3. Very true. Key factors are documentation, coordination, monitoring, negotiation. The importer should be aware of the import permit or clearance prior to importation. If there’s any additional document that he may require (on top of the standard ones), it should be explicitly indicated in the LC. Demurrage is considered a penalty and it will make your importation costs higher.

  4. Something to keep in mind is that in some Canadian ports there could be port demurrage, charged by the terminal and container Demurrage charged by the line.

  5. In some countries making sure the agent has a good understanding of the stevedores’ capabilities and a good relationship with them is vital in ensure the ship sails on time.