Philippine seamen who manned 11 Kuwaiti tankers put under the U.S. flag during the war between Iran and Iraq lost their bid to secure the U.S. minimum wage.

In a decision issued late Thursday, Judge James Latchum of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware ruled that the Kuwaiti tanker operation was not part of "U.S. commerce" and that "Congress did not intend to make the minimum wage apply to foreign citizens in foreign countries."The seamen bringing the case were seeking over $1 million in back wages for working on the reflagged ships in 1987. An attorney with the law firm representing the seamen said they were still considering whether to appeal the decision.

Kuwait in late 1986 asked the United States to put its flag on 11 tankers so it could continue oil export operations under the protection of the U.S. Navy.

Kuwaiti tankers had been targeted by Iran because of Kuwait's dealings with its enemy, Iraq. The Iraq-Iran war has ended but six of the ships still operate under the U.S. flag.

When they were reflagged, the Kuwaiti tankers obtained waivers from certain U.S. shipping requirements. While each tanker was required to have an American master and radio officer, they were allowed to keep their Filipino crews, who worked at rates below the minimum U.S. wage.

Judge Latchum decided that the employment contracts for the crews were covered by Philippine law and that applying U.S. wage laws to the situation ''would intrude on the sovereignty of the Philippines in regulating its work force."

The defendants in the case were the Kuwaiti holding company, Kuwait Petroleum Corp., and its U.S. subsidiaries and contractors.

They included Chesapeake Shipping Inc., Gleneagle Ship Management Co., Kuwait Oil Tanker Co., KPC (U.S. Holdings) Inc. and Santa Fe International Corp.

"I don't think the decision will have a broad impact on the American merchant marine," said Mark Schlefer, an attorney for the defendants. "It demonstrates the import of shipping in the military and, in that context, it is an important case."