In a recession, black markets flourish because many people who would otherwise be law-abiding find it hard to pay the price of legitimate goods. Now that the economy is improving, the illegal diesel stations found throughout the SAR should be dwindling. But instead, a trend has been established. And, after major oil companies raised their pump prices by up to seven per cent in September, the trend looks set to go on growing. In view of the hazards posed by this illegal practice, the failure to deal with it effectively is mystifying. Massive resources have been poured into the fight against intellectual piracy, and rightly so as it has cost the Government billions in lost revenue, and damaged Hong Kong's reputation. But software piracy does not pose a physical danger to anyone; whereas, the illegal diesel trade has been responsible for fires, explosions, and arson attacks in which at least one person was seriously injured in recent months. In addition, it cheated the Government out of an estimated $2 billion in taxes last year. A blaze in Sheung Shui in July involving 13,000 litres of illegal fuel took 20 fire engines and 105 firemen to put out. Another caused a family to flee from their beds as flames threatened their home. If the diesel pirates are not stamped on soon, and hard, it will only be a matter of time before innocent people are killed. That is apart from the insidious damage the black marketeers cause to the health of the whole population. Their sulphur-laden fuel is the biggest single producer of the respirable particulates which make air pollution here 50 per cent worse than in New York. In his Policy Address the Chief Executive pledged to cut damaging emissions by 65 per cent before the end of 2003. Without action to stamp this trade out, there is not much chance of reaching that target. Even though the Government has gazetted an amendment to impose stiffer penalties, not even the prospect of $1 million fines and two-year jail sentences is sufficient to stop such a profitable trade. It speaks volumes about the effectiveness of the law that the station in Hoi Yu Street, Quarry Bay, is still in operation after being raided 19 times this year. But it is not the only one that shrugs off the attentions of police and Customs officers. It is regular practice to resume trading after a raid. Illegal stations should be shut down following a raid on grounds of fire risk alone. The safety of the public must not be jeopardised by this illegal trade. And if illicit stations outnumber legal outlets by almost two to one, their success can only be due to heavy support from the transport industry. Buyers will be fully aware they are breaking the law, so they too should be targeted. Officials appear to making headway in the war against software piracy. The same effort against illegal fuel stations is urgently needed.