Northern Sri Lanka: Road to Recovery

Sri Lanka, War

Between 1983 and 2009 a never-ending military conflict between the Sinhalese government forces and the paramilitaries of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), who fought for independence of the majority of Tamil inhabited areas, raged mainly in the north of Sri Lanka. The United Nations estimates that nearly 40,000 Tamil civilians lost their lives in the final phase of the war, approximately half of the civil war’s total death toll. War crimes may have been carried out by both, the LTTE and the Governmental Army. Even after the war there was so sign of peace. The Sinhalese Government under rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sent thousands of soldiers to ensure the fragile peace in the troubled north. Human Rights Watch repeatedly accused police and army of politically motivated torture, ill-treatment and sexual violence against Tamil civilians. In January 2015 the autocratic ruling president Rajapaksa has been deselected in his planned re-election.

In the Northern province, especially around the area of Mullaitivu, the scars of war are most evident. Destroyed houses line next to mined land. The contamination from the final phase of the war (2008-2009) now poses the most immediate and significant threat to returning families as most of the mines in Kilinochchi were laid by the LTTE after civilians were displaced, returning families are often not aware of where minefields have been laid.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7479The ‘victory monument’ near Mullaitiviu portraying a Sri Lankan Army officer holding the country’s flag was raised to mark the battle at Mullaitivu beach in Nandikadal lagoon where the Tamil rebels (LTTE) and their leader were crushed by the Sri Lankan Army.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7521Singhalese army soldiers at a wartime memorial near Elephant Pass.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7668A Tamil man with the significant tikka, a Hindu symbol, on his face is sitting in front of his shop in Jaffna.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7451A Singhalese army soldier seen through the window of a passing car.  

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7607Tamil woman at a small fish market in Jaffna.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_MichaelBiach-7469.jpgThe contamination from the final phase of the war (2008-2009) now poses the most immediate and significant threat to returning families…

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7502…as most of the mines in Kilinochchi were laid by the LTTE after civilians were displaced, returning families are often not aware of where minefields have been laid.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7509In the Northern province, especially around the area of Mullaitivu, the scars of war are most evident. Destroyed houses line next to mined land.

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7514A torn election poster of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7595A Christian man selling vegetables in a market area in Jaffna.  

srilanka_roadtorecovery_michaelbiach-7461A Sri Lankan Army bus on the  Waddukwakal Bridge. The scene was the setting of an intense battle between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE in the final days of the war in 2009.  


The Motorcyclist


michaelbiach_laos-1020266A woman riding a motorcycle in remote Xieng Khouang province, Laos. 

Of Building & Breaking: Bangladesh’s Shipyards


Bangladesh has become famous for both – shipbuilding and shipbreaking. While the first has become a major promising industry in recent years, the latter has drawn international attention on the country’s risky working conditions, environmental pollution and the adoption of child labor.  Changes occured but are far from international standards.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-12Area at the ship-breaking yards in Sitakund, near Chittagong. Piece by piece ships are dismantled. Workers face tough conditions, extreme hard labor, fatal working incidents, the exposure of asbestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats. 

Shipbreaking is known as the breaking or recirculation of old ships for financial return. Old ships are sold so that the valuable steel can be reused. About 95 percent of a ship’s mass can be recycled. Until the 1960s, ship-breaking was concentrated in western countries like the United States, Germany, United Kingdom or Italy. From the early 1980s, the majority of the world’s vessels taken out of service were sent to India, China, Pakistan or Bangladesh. The workers at the ship-breaking yards in Sitakund, situated north of Chittagong in the Bay of Bengal, face the toughest working conditions of the whole country. Extremely hard labour, fatal working incidents, the exposure of abestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats to those working in the ship-dismantling industry. Every step could be their last. Far away from their villages, the workers seldom see their families. They do all of this for only $1-3 per day.


2012_Bangladesh-1.jpgAn ocean vessel at the ship-breaking yards of Sitakund, Bangladesh waiting to be dismantled by the workers.

There are around 100 ship-building yards in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, situated next to the river Buriganga. The yards are mostly serving the domestic market but are now also exporting ships for western markets.

2012_bangladesh-5449An old man is standing for a portrait in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-54882012_bangladesh-54522012_bangladesh-5478Workers rest in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-7Ocean vessels, ready to be dismantled by Bangladeshi and migrant workers, are stranded at the muddy beaches of Sitakund, Bangladesh along with old life boats. The vessels are dismantled by the workers within six months.

2012_bangladesh-4Barrels with oil are standing next an ocean vessel on the muddy beach of Sitakund Bangladehs. The vessel will be dismantled by workers within six months. Safety and environment regulations are mostly ignored.

2012_bangladesh-2Life boats of dismantled ocean vessels cover the muddy beaches of Sitakund, Bangladesh after everything else of the ship has been cut off and sold.

2012_bangladesh-5771Old vessels are being rebuild in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-5428Young workers in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.

2012_bangladesh-13An injured employee at the ship-breaking yards. Extremely hard labour, fatal working incidents, the exposure of abestos and toxic waste are among the deadly threats.

2012_bangladesh-3A worker at Bangladesh’s ship-breaking yards in Sitakund ist standing next to a big ocean vessel.

2012_bangladesh-57672012_bangladesh-54382012_bangladesh-5797Kids playing in Dhaka’s ship-building yards.






Nature & Wildlife, Sri Lanka

michaelbiach_srilanka_elephant-6919An Elephant is protecting from midday sun in Udawalawe Nationalpark, Sri Lanka.

Subterranean Vienna

Austria, Urban Exploration

2016_austria_vienna_underground-6545The river “Wien” beneath the inner city of Vienna. 



Vendor in Jaffna

Sri Lanka

srilanka_jaffna_michaelbiach-7670A fish vendor outside of his shop in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

30 pictures from Burma


The second dispatch from my travel section 30  pictures comes from Burma/Myanmar. I hope you enjoy the images. Click on the image below to enter the full gallery.

michaelbiach_30picsfromburma-7189Pa-O women wearing a traditional black tunic and a brightly colored turban. The turbans are often simply scarves or towels bought at local markets and then are wrapped in a traditional style. According to an old legend the Pa-O are descendants of a father who was a supernatural being and a mother who was a dragon. The women’s trademark turban is a manifestation of the creation myth. The Pa-O, also known as Taungthu, are the second most numerous ethnic group in Burma’s Shan-State.


The Mechanic


michaelbiach_30picsfromburma-6911An old man is opening his mechanic shop in Mandalay, Burma. 

Young at Work

Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, Poland, Slovakia

Although illegal in most countries, child labor still continues all over the world, especially in developing countries. It is estimated that more than 168 million kids worldwide are working long hours under harsh conditions. In countries affected by poverty and unemployment, child labor often seems the only way for families to survive. In other cases, like organized begging, children are forced to work. Since 2002 the global child labor force has decreased by a third.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-5701Two boys working for a sub-contractor of a garment-factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-8193A young Roma boy is forced to beg in the streets of Bratislava, Slovakia. He was playing his accordion in several locations across the city, always only for a limited time to avoid being picked up by Slovakian police.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-5461A young boy working in a shipyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-6118New roads are constructed in remote Chin-State, Burma, often with the use of low-paid child labor.

2014_Walbrzych-2236Two teenagers in Walbrzych, Poland, are searching for ‘black gold’ in an illegal coal mine. The boys work on their own and are selling the coal to friends and neighbors in order to earn some money.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-5366A young boy working in a shipyard in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-5088A young girl is selling bells on the streets of Yangon, Burma.

michaelbiach_youngatwork-5713Boys working for a sub-contractor of a garment-factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


Abandoned Memory

Scotland, Urban Exploration

An old wedding photo still hangs on the wall inside an abandoned house on Shetland Island.


Bird of Joy

Nature & Wildlife, Scotland

The Atlantic Puffin is doubtless one of the most adored seabirds in the world. Clown-faced with a body of black and white the cute birds only spend time on land while breading, which is from late April to early August. After their chicks have learned to fly and how to catch fish on their own, puffins simply vanish for months into the North Atlantic just to return a year later, often to the same partner and burrow. What Puffins are doing during wintertime is a mystery.



2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5589A Puffin picks up blade of grass to line its burrow.

2016_Scotland-5979Puffins often wait nearby their burrows before returning back with sand-eels in their mouth to watch out for gulls and other seabirds that may steal their food.

2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5899.jpgAtlantic Puffins catch up to a dozen fish or more, mostly sand-eels, to bring a meal for their chicks. 

2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5609Puffins rub their beaks to show other seabirds they are a brace. 

2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5556.jpgPuffins burrow near cliffs for an easy access to the sea.


2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5655.jpgA puffin brace with their chick which has not yet the significant large orange beak.

2016_Shetland_MichaelBiach_Puffins-5832.jpgAn Atlantic Puffin exits its burrow near the open sea. Burrows are several feet deep to keep eggs or chicks safe.


More information on the Atlantic Puffin on National Geographic.

Victim of War

Syria, Turkey, War

2016_TurkeySyriaBorder_MichaelBiach-3845.jpgZijad, an 8 year old boy from Syria’s Idlib region and another victim of war, recently fled with his family by crossing illegally the border into Turkish Hatay province. In this image he is seen being examined by an Austrian plastic surgeon inside the Emel hospital at the Syrian border prior to an operation necessary to engraft skin from other parts of his body.


Photographer Matthieu Paley: We are what we eat


French photographer Matthieu Paley has always been a great inspiration to me, both as a traveler and a photographer. Two years ago the acclaimed photographer did a huge story for National Geographic on The Evolution of Diet. Paley traveled through seven countries, reporting on communities like the Bajau (Borneo), the Inuit (Greenland) or the Hadza (Tanzania) and their ancestral diet. He also published a book from this assignment, which can be order through 180°C, Man & Food – The Origins. For National Geographic Live Paley sums up his adventures during this assignment, you can watch the seven episodes below.









30 pictures from Scotland

Nature & Wildlife, Scotland, Uncategorized

I have created a new page on my blog called 30  pictures which will be devoted to travel photography and will feature thirty single images of one country or destination.

The first dispatch comes from SCOTLAND. Click on the image below to enter the full gallery.


Searching for Poland’s (Black) Gold


About a year ago two private treasure hunters, Piotr Koper and Andreas Liechter, announced that they have found a secret tunnel in Poland’s Lower Silesia that may hide a train full of stolen gold and artwork from World War II. Since then hundreds of treasure hunters made their way to search the area around the former coal mining town Wałbrzych.

Recently Koper and Liechter have brought heavy equipment to Wałbrzych and began to remove earth on Monday to search for the hidden Nazi gold train. Although historians doubt such a train has ever existed, the treasure hunters are still optimistic that within the next days they will find what they are looking for.

Not so long ago I spend some time in Wałbrzych with illegal coal miners searching for Poland’s real treasure, the ‘Black Gold‘:

Walbrzych_Roman Janiszek_100_7617

For centuries coal mining has been the most important industry in Walbrzych, Poland. However, in the 1980s many of the coal mines became unprofitable. With Poland’s transformation from a state-directed to a free-market economy in the 1990s, nearly all of the coal mines in Lower Silesia were shut down. Thousands of people became jobless.

The area still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country despite new industry settling in the area. It didn’t take very long until the jobless miners in the area started to dig for coal on their own.




The business is dangerous and illegal. Tunnels leading as deep as ten or fifteen meters below the ground are only protected by wood and sandbags. Inside, people dig for coal the same way they did centuries ago, by hand. Police regularly arrest illegal coal miners and confiscate their equipment, so most people dig by night to avoid police control. Not only the well-educated former miners search for ‘black gold,’ but also young and unexperienced jobless men risk their freedom and their lives to make a couple of Euros a night by selling illegal coal to residents.





Welcome to the Blog


Dear friends,

after haven’t posted in a while I have decided to rearrange my photography blog. In the future I will post regularly about my travel & documentary photography, share my recent work as well as images from the archive, write about personal experiences and keep you updated on travels, adventures and interesting news in photojournalism and photography.

I will also open a new page called 30  pictures which will be devoted to travel photography and will feature thirty single images of one country or destination.

Bangladesh_Chittagong_Michael Biach_Blog-6853_2

Chittagong, Bangladesh.