Fishermen boats confiscated in Uganda’s KingFisher oil field

Screenshot from video reviewed by Just Finance International. Three men in military uniforms towing away fishing boats in the KingFisher oil field.
Photo: Just Finance International (2023)

A video reviewed by Just Finance International shows a group of uniformed men removing fishing boats from a shore in Lake Alberts KingFisher oil field. Community members say the boats were confiscated by members of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) in order to reduce traffic on the lake for China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s (CNOOC) expansion of their oil operations in the area.

The video shows three men wearing the uniforms of the Ugandan army towing away eight fishing boats from the shore. The fishermen were not given any explanation as to why their boats were taken away. According to Just Finance Internationals (JFI) sources, the Chinese parastatal oil company CNOOC is working together with the military to reduce boat traffic in the area due to the expanding oil operations.

The loss of the boats is a catastrophe for their owners. One single boat is estimated to provide two or three families with their livelihood. This means that approximately 288 persons lost their main source of income.

Due to CNOOC’s oil activities, the fishermen from KingFisher have been forced to go further offshore in order to fish, bringing them close to the shore of the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) exposing them to rebel hands. As they navigate closer to the border, their boats face greater exposure to attacks by competing fishermen and security agencies from the neighboring country.

Video showing how fishing boats are taken away from their owners by men dressed in military uniforms.

According to one local community member, the KingFisher area has lately become heavily militarized with a full military detach established in the area due to the oil operations, forcing many fishermen to venture out into the waters of the DRC. 

The traditional fishing communities in the KingFisher area have been under pressure from the authorities and developers ever since oil operations began in 2009 and worsened when CNOOC came on in 2013. Many local residents have been involuntarily relocated without receiving just compensation for their land and houses , according to interviews done by Just Finance International.

The local communities were also promised work opportunities, scholarships and improvements to the community’s infrastructure, schools, and healthcare services by the oil company. Yet to this day, very few of these promises have been fulfilled.

Instead, what they have gotten is increased military and security presence. The Ugandan army has a camp at the top of the escarpment leading down to the fishing village. There are also private security staff in the area employed by CNOOC. Local villagers who spoke to JFI believe the men involved in the fishing boat confiscation incident were acting on behalf of the army.

Just Finance International have shared the film, and reports of the incident, with the UN. We have also reached out to the Ugandan army through their official channels but without getting any response.