The Príncipe de Asturias was built in Scotland in 1912 and, along with her sister ship the Infanta Isabel, she was one of the largest ships in the Spanish merchant fleet. Spain's commercial shipping did not rival Britain's or Germany's in size at the time and the Príncipe de Asturias (named after the title traditionally given to the heirs to the Spanish throne) weighed 8,400-tons, with room for 1800 passengers.
Spain under King Alfonso XIII stayed neutral during the First World War. There seemed no obvious territorial or commercial benefit to embroiling herself in the conflict, furthermore she had no major long-standing alliance with any of the combatants. The Royal Family itself was divided on the issue - King Alfonso's mother, the 'tall, fair and sensible' Maria-Christina, was an Austrian archduchess by birth; his wife, Queen Victoria-Eugenie (often known as Ena), was a British princess, the cousin of King George V, but she was also Kaiser Wilhelm II's cousin and had a host of German relatives. Furthermore, public opinion in Spain was divided between the Allies and the Central Powers.
With Spain officially neutral and King Alfonso's government acting alongside Sweden and Switzerland as a diplomatic conduit for many official negotiations between the warring powers, commercial life continued much as before in the Iberian kingdom. In 1916, the Príncipe de Asturias was re-assigned to operate the route between Barcelona and Buenos Aires. On a return visit in March 1916, the ship was sailing off the coast of Brazil in a dense fog, when she ran aground of a partially submerged sandback near the city of São Sebastião. The captain attempted to turn the ship towards the nearby port of Santos, but the damage sustained was too extensive. Tragically, the Príncipe de Asturias sank shortly before sunrise on 5th March, 1916, with the loss of 445 lives.