updated 11/19/2009 11:49:46 AM ET 2009-11-19T16:49:46

Australia's largest pleasure cruise company said on Thursday it would continue to insist that young adult passengers be accompanied by parents even though the policy has been branded discriminatory.

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Carnival Australia, a subsidiary of global Carnival Corp., demands that adults aged 18 to 21 are accompanied by a parent or guardian if they want to book one of a range of South Pacific cruises from Australian ports from November through January.

The policy aims to exclude large groups of Australian revelers who traditionally take raucous vacations to celebrate the end of the school or college year.

A rejected passenger lodged an age discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, the nation's arbiter of federal anti-discrimination law.

Carnival responded by asking the commission for an exemption from its so-called under-21 policy of the Age Discrimination Act "to combat the risk of binge-drinking among young people in a holiday environment."

Australians are deemed adults and are allowed to drink alcohol from the age of 18.

But the commission on Wednesday rejected the exemption application, leaving Carnival open to claims for damages from rejected passengers in the federal courts.

"The commission is not satisfied that unaccompanied under-21s pose a serious threat to the health, safety and security of passengers," Commission President Catherine Branson wrote in her ruling.

The policy "is inconsistent with and undermines" the law's aim of eliminating age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, she said.

Carnival spokeswoman Sandy Olsen said Thursday that the company, which owns and operates three P&O Cruises Australia and two Princess Cruises Australia ocean liners, would maintain the policy introduced three years ago in response to complaints about unruly young passengers.

"We have an overriding duty of care to our passengers and it's on that basis that we will continue to apply the policy," Olsen said.

"We believe it is a commonsense approach to managing group behavior," she added.

The company is examining the ruling and has not ruled out an appeal to the Federal Court.

An exemption would have protected Carnival from any further complaints from people who are denied passage because they are younger than 21.

Australian National University Law Professor Margaret Thornton said there was no limit to the amount of damages that a complainant could seek in the Federal Court for age discrimination.

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