The vessel, known as the Onega, went down at around 7am local time on Monday off the coast of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in Russia. Two survivors were rescued in the Barents Sea, located off the northern coast of Russia. The men were plucked from the perilous waters which were -30C at the time of the sinking.
In a statement, the Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes in Russia, said: “As a result of the accident, 19 people ended up in the water.”
A source told the Interfax news agency they were not holding out much hope of finding survivors among the missing 17.
They said: “During the sinking, temperatures were as low as 30 degrees (Celsius) below zero.
“It’s practically impossible to hold out even with wet suits on.”
The source said the boat went underwater so quickly the crew did not have enough time to activate life rafts.
And a spokesman for the Russia’s emergencies ministry gave a grim prediction.
He said: “Most likely, all the 17 people died. They have not been found yet.”
The ministry attributed the sinking to a heavy build-up of ice on the trawler.
Reports suggested rescue helicopters were grounded due to the harsh weather.
The corpse was washed away by waves reaching up to 10ft.
The rescued pair were said to be in satisfactory condition.
Ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet were headed to the area to try to look for survivors, Interfax said.
And a military plane was sent to the area to support rescue efforts, TASS cited the defence ministry as saying.
The ministry said rescue ships are facing temperatures of around -20C and waves of around 13ft.
The boat had been stationed at its home port of Murmansk before its final voyage.
The city is located in northwestern Russia, at the end of a deep bay off the Barents Sea.
A port official in the city of Murmansk told the TASS news agency that one crew member had already been found dead in Arctic waters.
A source told the Moscow Times that the tragedy happened during a storm.
They said: “The disaster struck during a strong storm when the crew was hauling out a net with the catch.
“People were literally swept off from the deck by the sea.”
Maritime accidents are common in Russia, especially in the winter months.