ROME - An Italian ice-breaker carrying scientists researching in the Antarctic has sailed further south than any ship has done before, the organisers of the voyage said on Tuesday.

The Laura Bassi vessel reached a point with the coordinates of 78° 44.280 S in the Bay of Whales in the Ross Sea, according to Italy's National Institute of Oceanography and Applied Geophysics.

The voyage was made possible by an unusual lack of ice in the area, it said. Satellite analysis last year showed that Antarctica's coastal glaciers are shedding icebergs more rapidly than nature can replenish.

Researchers from the Laura Bassi took samples to study fish in the waters and explored to a depth of 216 metres to help get a better understanding of the sea currents.

An initial analysis showed the water remained extremely cold and a high density of larval and juvenile stages of fish species, with some varieties rarely observed in the Ross Sea, and a large amount of unicellular algae.

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Arun Koyyur)