AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ A Japanese-owned tanker carrying toxic chemicals exploded and caught fire in the North Sea on Friday, killing at least one crew member and critically injuring two, Dutch authorities said.

There were no reports of leaks from the 2,700-ton cargo, although an explosion ripped a large hole in the ship. Dutch television reported that the blaze was extinguished hours after the initial blast, and the burnt-out vessel was upright and afloat.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately known.

Flames as high as 160 feet had spread over the hull while the fire was raging, according to a Dutch Navy official at the coastal Eelde air base.

A Dutch coast guard spokesman said at least one crew member was dead and the remaining 21 sailors were rescued by navy helicopters. Two were in critical condition, spokesman Don Pimentel said.

The multiple explosions rocked the Panamanian-registered Shiokaze 50 miles off the Dutch coastal island of Terschelling. The area is rich in marine life and is home to the only 150 gray seals in the Wadden Sea, according to the Seal Hospital in Pieterburen.

Greenpeace said the Shiokaze was carrying ethylhexanol and dioctylphtalate, chemicals used to make plastics. It can take up to five days for the substances to dissolve in seawater, said a spokeswoman for the environmental group, Fransce Verdeuzeldonk.

If there were any spilled chemicals, southerly currents were expected to carry them out to sea, and Minister of Transport and Waterways Hanja Maij- Weggen said there was no danger to the Wadden Sea.

The tanker sent an emergency signal at about 2:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m. EST) after the first explosion. Local Radio Noord Holland said a second blast occurred about three hours later.

The tanker was sailing along the coast of the Dutch Wadden islands in one of Europe's busiest shipping channels.

According to the Lloyd's register of shipping in London, the Shiokaze has a dry weight of 16,982 tons and is owned by the Japanese company Nippo Unyu.