The alien ship appears to be stranded and inoperable for the 20 years it hangs over Johannesburg. Early on we are shown that a small vessel had detached from the ship and disappeared.

Approaching the movie's climax we learn:

1. The small vessel was hidden under a shack in District 9 the entire time.
2. The vessel is a command module that can activate the alien technology and the stranded ship itself.
3. Alien Christopher Johnson (and cohorts) spent 20 years collecting enough "fluid" from alien scrap metal to power up the command module ... and (he suggests) to subsequently get the entire ship very quickly to retrieve alien help.

All of the "fluid" needed to power the ship to leave Earth came with the ship itself. In fact, enough could be extracted just from the small pieces of debris that fell off of the ship onto the ground while it was stranded.

Even if we accept that the ship lost or ran out of the distilled fluid fuel, is there a good explanation for why Christopher Johnson didn't stay on the ship and extract it there directly, rather than going to ground to scavenge it from scraps and distill it in a shack over the course of 20 years?

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    Your assumptions are wrong. The ship stopped on earth because of a likely leadership crisis, its unknown if christopher came with the control ship or it was ejected by someone else or automatically, only that christopher has it later and required fuel. The Aliens were more or less ‚forcefully‘ removed and relocated in camps. Access to the alien technology is alien genetic, so the rest of the ship and its resources were not human accessible and the reason for the movies second plot. – morbo Nov 4 '19 at 12:48
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    @morbo: the suggestion in your comment that every alien was forcibly removed from the ship could answer the question. I.e., if it was impossible for Christopher to stay on the ship, or to get back onto it, then that would explain why he had to resort to scavenging for fluid on the ground. But I did not see any suggestions in the movie that they forced every prawn off the ship, or that the ship was blocked after the rescue operation. (In fact, the ongoing appearance of alien weapons might suggest ongoing access to the ship.) – feetwet Nov 4 '19 at 18:12
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    I expect all the prawns were removed as there was likely no food there anymore...I suspect,like you,there was regular access to the ship by MNU, but no access was allowed by the prawns. – morbo Nov 4 '19 at 18:16

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