A leading maritime law academic has called on Australia's post-election government to ratify the Athens Convention on passengers' rights at sea to protect the booming number of Australians going on cruise ships.
The convention establishes compensation for passengers on ships, making cruise operators liable for damage or loss if fault or negligence is shown.
Sufficient countries have now ratified it, including all European Union countries, and it will come into force internationally next year.
Yet the United States and Australia - the two biggest players in the global cruise industry - have not signed. Australia's $830 million cruise industry grew by 34 per cent in 2011. Most ships are operated by Carnival Cruises, based in Miami.
Associate professor Kate Lewins of Murdoch University said after the Costa Concordia disaster last year when an Italian cruise ship ran aground off the Tuscany coast, and in the aftermath of Dianne Brimble dying on a cruise in 2002, Australian passengers needed more protection.
Ratifying the Athens Convention's 2002 protocol, which became EU law last year, would ''provide a clear pathway for injured passengers in terms of how and where to claim, and what their ultimate entitlements are,'' Associate Professor Lewins said.
''Currently, passenger claims are dealt with as a matter of Australian domestic consumer protection and civil liability laws and there are many confusing and uncertain aspects of those laws when applied to shipping matters. With the rapid increase in the popularity of cruising over the past decade, the impetus to create a certain legal platform for passengers has never been greater. It would be a great shame if it took a maritime tragedy to bring the attention of the lawmakers to the state of the law as regards ship passengers.''
The Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand lobbied for the change in 2010.
The renewed call regarding the Athens Convention comes as a parliamentary inquiry's report into crime on cruise ships is released. The Troubled Waters report was prompted by coronial findings into the Brimble death on a P&O cruise.
She was administered fatal levels of the party drug Gamma-hydroxybutrate (GHB) and photographed. An inquest identified eight persons of interest but no convictions were secured.
The report recommends extensive changes in the cruise industry including better securing of crime scenes and mandatory reporting of crime data. The recommendations will go to the new government early in its first term.
Mark Brimble, Mrs Brimble's husband, is now a lobbyist for cruise victims. He is calling for the cruise industry in Australia to levy passengers to pay for an independent passengers' advocate on board each ship.
In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry, Carnival Cruises said it would not be opposed to abiding by the Athens Convention.