CANBERRA - Grieving relatives of those on board the crashed Malaysia Airlines jet will be warmly welcomed to Australia if they choose to visit at this "desperately difficult time", Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Tuesday.
Malaysia Airlines had on Monday told families of the 239 people on the doomed plane that they would be brought to the "recovery area", as the search for wreckage continues in the remote southern Indian Ocean.
While Abbott did not specify whether relatives would be brought out to sea, Australia is leading the hunt for debris - temporarily suspended due to bad weather - with surveillance missions flying out of Perth in the nation's west.
"This has been a desperately difficult time for thousands and thousands of people right around the globe, particularly in China as well as in Malaysia," Abbott told reporters.
"I understand that the loved ones of those on that plane may well wish to come to Australia in the coming days and weeks.
"They will find a welcoming country that is more than willing to embrace them in this very difficult time."
Visa fees will be waived for grieving relatives wishing to come to Australia, Abbott later told parliament.
A sombre Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced late Monday that the plane is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean with no survivors.
Stunned relatives in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur reacted with grief and anguish as their worst fears were confirmed.
Abbott said he spoke with Najib on Tuesday to offer Australia's continuing support and cooperation with the search mission - now focused on recovery of the wreckage and investigation into the cause of the crash.
"It's a long way from anywhere but obviously it's closer to Australia than anywhere else, and Australia has much of the capacity needed to get this done as best it can be," Abbott said of the search.