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Aurora businessman stranded on ship in Antarctic

A handout pictured shows Dutch ship Plancius Antarctica. The ship is stranded with engine trouble April 11 South GeorgiIslwith some

A handout pictured shows the Dutch ship Plancius in Antarctica. The ship is stranded with engine trouble on April 11 on South Georgia Island with some 100 people of differents nationalities taking part in a tourist expedition. | PIETER VAN DER LUIT/AFP/G

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Updated: May 16, 2012 8:22AM

An Aurora businessman and world traveler who founded one of the largest alarm companies in the country is now stranded on a ship in the Antarctic.

Bob Bonifas, 74, founder of Alarm Detection Systems in Aurora, has been stranded on the ship since Tuesday, his daughter Connie Busby said.

Bonifas is traveling with Janis Christiansen, president of FlagSource in Batavia, according to Bonifas’ sister-in-law Debbie Bonifas. Christiansen is from St. Charles.

“The ship line is supposed to be sending a replacement” for the stranded vessel, Busby said Friday.

Family has been able to keep in contact with Bonifas via satellite phone.

Bonifas is one of 73 passengers, including 14 Americans, stranded in port at South Georgia Island near the Antarctic Peninsula. He is on the Plancius, a 291-foot former oceanographic research vessel and cruise ship that travels to remote areas of the Antarctic.

The ship made it into port on April 10, but could go no further.

“The island is part of a remote and inhospitable collections of islands, consisting of South Georgia and a chain of smaller islands, known as the South Sandwich Islands,” said Katherine Quintero, a spokesman for Bonifas.

Busby, who is also treasurer at Alarm Detection Systems, said her father received a letter aboard the ship that the cruise line is sending another boat to them, which will take six days.

“It will take six days to get them back to South America, so it sounds like it will be 16 days in all,” she said.

According to Quintero, trouble started 12 days into a 31-day journey from Ushuaia, Argentina, one of the southernmost cities in the world, to Ascension Island, an isolated volcanic island near the Equator.

After returning from a small island, the ship suffered a complete power failure. The crew was able to fix the problem and set course for Tristan de Cunha heading north in order to avoid a fierce storm system, Quintero said. En route, the ship suffered another engine failure.

The crew believed the ship could complete the cruise around the islands, but the situation took a turn for the worse when it could no longer reach full power. The ship then returned to Grytviken in the South Georgia Islands where it currently sits in the harbor.

Passengers were notified via letter Thursday that the present circumstances would make it dangerous to sail in open ocean in rough conditions.

Michel van Gessel, managing director of Oceanwide Expeditions, said in the letter that the cruise line has chartered a passenger vessel to sail from Mar del Plata, Argentina, to get them. The trip will take about five days, the letter read.

After the pickup, the ship will then sail to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Van Gessel said passengers on board were “calm and the spirit on board is — given the circumstances — admirably good.”

Bonifas, a longtime world traveler, has visited 800 of the world’s 872 countries, according to Quintero.

“Although our journey is cut short, the true merit lies in the attempt,” Bonifas said via satellite phone. “When you have been to as many place as we have, the risk-reward scenario gets greater as fewer destinations are left on the map to visit.”

Busby said her father is safe, but in a very cold region of the world.

“The stories he’s telling me, I wouldn’t want to be there,” she said. “They still have running water, heat, food — but it’s a long time to sit and wait without moving.”

Still, Busby said the family feels fortunate that Bonifas is healthy.

“He was a little freaked out when this first happened,” she said.

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