Demystifying Demurrage Charges for Charterers

Demurrage charges play a significant role in the dynamics between ship owners and charterers. They can favor either the charterer or the shipowner, depending on how the charter party contract is structured and negotiated. 

Let’s have a look at demurrage, what it is, and how better data, information, and certainty about factors affecting laytime can be used to leverage the negotiation of favorable demurrage terms and better outcomes for all parties.

What is demurrage?

Demurrage refers to the charges imposed on the charterer (the party hiring the ship) by the shipowner when the agreed-upon free time for loading or unloading cargo at a port exceeds the stipulated period. It is a form of liquidated damages for breaching the laytime as stated in the governing contract (the “charter party”).

However, the importance of demurrage depends on what side of the negotiation table you sit. 

For the charterer, demurrage fees can have a considerable range and increase with each passing day the vessel remains in port. From the charterer’s perspective, demurrage acts as a financial deterrent against delays in cargo operations and advantages the management of these operations efficiently to avoid these costs.

For the ship owner, demurrage is the compensation they receive when their vessels are detained beyond the agreed laytime for reasons attributable to the charterer, such as delays in cargo handling or port congestion. The demurrage charge is a way for owners to recoup potential lost revenue from having their vessel unavailable for other charters. This setup provides a financial incentive for the owner to enforce strict adherence to laytime agreements.

Calculating Demurrage Charges

Demurrage charges are typically calculated based on a formula that considers the demurrage rate, and the number of days or partial days exceeded beyond the agreed-upon free time. The calculation is as follows:

Demurrage Payable = Demurrage Rate × Days/Hours Exceeded

For example, if the demurrage rate is $20,000 per day, the free time is 7 days, and the delay is 6 days and 8 hours, the demurrage payable would be around $127,000.

Common causes for demurrage

The delays leading to demurrage fees often find their “roots in traditional, paper-based trade document processes, and the manual nature of the process contributes to significant delays. 

The paperwork process that accompanies a vessel’s arrival to port can take anywhere from 10-14 days, creating a misalignment between cargo arrival and the availability of necessary documents creating the perfect conditions for demurrage charges to accrue.

According to the blockchain shipping solution WaveBL, several factors contribute to delays in cargo release: Document verification issues arise from data or information discrepancies, leading to longer inspection times. Also, dependence on physical paperwork can extend information transmission times to up to 14 days, affecting the exchange of invoices, bills of lading, or customs declarations.

Charterers can take several proactive steps to avoid incurring demurrage charges. Among them are: 

Maintain effective communication practices: Ensure seamless communication between all parties (consignors, consignees, carriers, etc.) to receive timely shipment status updates and coordinate container pickup promptly.

Utilize real-time tracking: Implement systems for real-time shipment tracking to identify potential delays early and take corrective actions.

Leverage predictive analytics: Analyze historical data and patterns to anticipate potential delays and negotiate contracts accordingly.

Maintain accurate documentation: Keep meticulous records of communication trails, vessel logs, and port records to substantiate claims in case of disputes.

Data and information- and using both wisely – are the keys to minimizing the risk of incurring costly demurrage charges and enhancing efficiency.

Dispute Resolutions

Disputes related to demurrage charges can arise due to disagreements over the calculation methodology, interpretation of contract terms, or the attribution of responsibility for delays. Resolving such disputes often involves arbitration, litigation, or negotiation between the parties involved.

Maintaining accurate records and documentation, such as vessel logs, port records, and communication trails, is crucial for substantiating claims and resolving disputes effectively.Industry “best practices” and benchmarks emphasize transparent communication and adherence to established guidelines and regulations.

Establishing clear and fair demurrage charge calculation methodologies can help mitigate disputes and foster a more collaborative relationship between ship owners and charterers.

How Information Changes the Dynamic

In the world of ship owners and charterers, the balance of power – and profit – often hinges on access to pertinent information and the capacity to use it effectively. Those with more accurate data and the ability to act swiftly usually have an upper hand in minimizing costs and maximizing revenue opportunities related to demurrage charges.

Charterers with access to comprehensive data on port operations, cargo readiness, and historical demurrage patterns can negotiate more favorable terms and better manage their exposure to demurrage charges. 


By analyzing this data, charterers can identify potential bottlenecks, optimize cargo handling processes, and collaborate with ship owners to streamline operations.


Moreover, agility and responsiveness play a crucial role in navigating the complexities of demurrage charges. Ship owners and charterers with rapid decision-making processes and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances can seize opportunities and mitigate risks more effectively.

How can having access to better information help charterers negotiate better contracts?

Charterers can leverage detailed operational planning and real-time data about port conditions, cargo readiness, and logistics to minimize the risk of demurrage. Advanced knowledge about potential delays can help them rearrange their operations or even renegotiate terms proactively.

The goal is to minimize demurrage charges by negotiating favorable terms:

– Lower demurrage rate: Negotiate a lower daily demurrage rate, which limits their liability if laytime is exceeded.

– Longer laytime: Longer allowed laytime periods give charterers more flexibility before demurrage kicks in.

– Exceptions to demurrage: Some charter parties include exceptions where demurrage does not accrue, such as strikes, weather delays, etc., benefiting charterers.

Ultimately, the party with more data, information, and certainty about factors affecting laytime can leverage that knowledge to negotiate more favorable demurrage terms in the charter party.


The demystification of demurrage charges is essential for both ship owners and charterers in the bulk shipping industry. Effective management of demurrage charges can significantly impact operational costs, profitability, and overall supply chain efficiency. 

By implementing proactive strategies, negotiating favorable terms, and leveraging technological advancements, stakeholders can mitigate the risks associated with demurrage charges and enhance the competitiveness of their bulk shipping operations.

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