Container detention – how to avoid an unexpected bill

Container detention has always been one of those costs that those transporting goods by sea can fall foul of. However, in today’s climate, when transport costs have escalated and margins are low, the last thing you want to deal with is a large container detention invoice.

Fortunately, there are a few simple things importers can do to avoid a hefty container detention bill.  In this short article we provide you with a few simple tips to help better manage the return of containers to ensure you don’t end up with a container detention bill.

  1. Understand your obligations. All too often people who are unfamiliar with shipping find themselves with an unexpected bill simply because they did not realise it was their obligation to return the container. Many newcomers to the industry (and even those who have been around for a while), often mistakenly believe that, because they did not arrange the shipping it is not their responsibility to pay any costs incurred by reason of their failure to return the container within the free time period. In very simple terms, if you take collection of a container and the goods are yours, or you collect the goods, it’s likely you are responsible for the return of the container, and the costs of failing to return the container on time.
  2. Know how long you have to return the container All shipping lines provide a certain amount of free time to allow people or businesses time to collect and return shipping containers. Make sure you understand what the free time is and allow yourself plenty of time to collect and return the container, ensuring that you factor in public holidays or other possible delays. If you know you will need more time, ask your shipper to negotiate additional free time with the carrier.
  3. Ensure you factor in possible port or custom delays. Be aware that if you have an issue with customs and the release of the container is delayed, you’ll likely have to pay the additional container detention fees if such a delay causes you to go beyond your allowable free time. Whilst this might seem unfair, particularly to those who are new to shipping, it is important to note that such delays likely have nothing to do with the shipping line. You should ensure all your paperwork is in order so as to avoid such delays by customs, and if your goods are prone to customs examination, negotiate additional free time before the goods are booked for shipment.
  4. Put in place a procedure. It sounds basic, but one of the easiest ways companies can avoid receiving a container detention bill, is to put in place a good procedure for the collection and return of containers and ensure everyone in the business knows what it is. You might even consider making one person in the business responsible for managing the collection and return of containers. It might take a little while to craft the procedure, but anyone who has found themselves with a large detention bill because they forgot to return the container, or missed the deadline, will appreciate how spending some time getting this right can save thousands of dollars. Similarly, if you engage an agent to undertake this work, make sure you are familiar with their procedures and requirements for a seamless collection and return of containers.
  5. Don’t dig your head in the sand. If it looks like you’re not going to have time to collect or return a container, contact the shipping line early and see if there is a way to negotiate a longer return time.

The above 5 points provide a few quick tips to help you to mitigate against receiving a hefty container detention bill. TLB LAW & CO are expert trade & transport lawyers and can assist businesses with all their needs in the industry. If you’d like some assistance with container detention or any other trade & transport issue such as importing / exporting or damage to goods, book your complimentary initial 15-minute consultation or call us on 1300 80 67 80.

IMPORTANT NOTICE – The information contained in this article is not intended to be comprehensive. It is general in nature and is not intended to be used as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. You must seek specific professional advice tailored to your personal circumstances before taking any action based on this article.

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