Completed in November 1919 at McDougall-Duluth Shipbuilding Co., Duluth, MN, the Caribsea originally took to the water for U.S. Shipping Board, Washington, D.C., as the Lake Flattery. Three years later she was renamed Buenaventura for Panama Rail Road Co. Inc., and in 1940 received her final name when she was sold to Stockard SS Co. of New York.
Classified as an ocean-going cargo ship, Caribsea was one of fifteen identical Laker-style steamships and had a capacity of 2,609 tons. On her last journey, she was carrying 3,600 tons of ore, a thousand tons more than her stated maximum. Did this extra weight cause the Caribsea to sink so quickly that there was no time to launch lifeboats, damning everyone who was not on deck to go down with the ship?