Talk about a public relations disaster. The cruise industry has been awash in hideous publicity for more than a year. And the ugly news just keeps coming.

It’s been just 13 months since The Costa Concordia – operated by Costa Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival – ran into a rock off the coast of Italy. The ship is still resting on its side and is a powerful reminder of an accident that killed at least 30 people.

Then, in February 2012, the Costa Allegra – another Costa Cruise ship – had to be towed to shore after a fire in its engine room left that ship marooned off the coast of India.

Now this: The Carnival Triumph was stranded at sea last week after a fire in its engine room left that cruise ship without power. In interviews after they reached shore in Mobile, AL, disgusted passengers described conditions that made it sound like they had been marooned in a floating cesspool.

Not good.

The cruise industry is quickly becoming a punch line. The only way to fight that awful perception will be through brand. The cruise line that tackles the bad publicity head-on will be the one that takes the leadership position in the industry.

Cruises are all about fun. When passengers endure anguish, anxiety, discomfort and even death at sea, the image of cruising is sunk.

Ironically, Carnival unveiled a television ad in December that claimed its ships were, “Fun for all. All for Fun.” Sadly, there are thousands of passengers from the Triumph that would take issue with that happy claim.

All of the players in the category should re-think their brands and ask themselves a few questions. They should ask why passengers would choose them over other lines and who do passengers think they are when taking a cruise? What do passengers want from a cruise: Is it only about fun or is there some other experience that they seek?

It’s rare that public perception must be addressed through brand, but that is the case with the cruise industry.

Some experts predict that the cruise industry’s problems will fade away with time. Maybe so. But what happens if there is another incident?