The director of Port Manatee on Florida's Gulf Coast last week accused the rival Port of Tampa of using an unfair tactic to induce Port Manatee's largest stevedoring company to stop handling cargo there.

Port Manatee plans to file a complaint with the Federal Maritime

Commission, Claude McGavic, its port director, said. It is the latest step in an escalating war between the two Tampa Bay ports.Tampa Bay International Terminals Inc., a separate company created by the Tampa Port Authority, recently agreed to purchase for $4 million some of the major assets of stevedore Eller & Co., which handles cargo at both ports.

Eller is the third major general cargo terminal operator to be bought out by the port authority unit.

Mr. McGavic charged Friday that a clause in Tampa's pending contract with Eller states the stevedore must stop handling cargo at ports within a 100-mile radius of Tampa. Port Manatee is the only port that would be affected by such a clause.

"Ordinarily there's open and free competition, but this has gone a little further so we plan to ask them (the FMC) to look at it and see if they agree," Mr. McGavic said. "It essentially takes away the people who handle cargo at this facility."

The contract has not been made public, and a Tampa port official wouldn't confirm or deny the existence of the clause Mr. McGavic referred to. But Bill Stover, director of public and government relations for the Port of Tampa, acknowledged that Tampa Bay International Terminals' contracts with two other stevedores whose local operations it bought out last year do bar the stevedores from operating at other facilities within 100 miles of Tampa.

The Eller deal, Mr. Stover said, is part of "our long-run plan for Tampa. It has nothing to do with pushing Manatee out of the way."

Eller brings approximately $250,000 worth of business to Port Manatee each year, making it the largest handler at the port. In fiscal 1989, Port Manatee

revenues were $3.8 million.

Losing Eller might force Port Manatee into becoming an operating port, much like Tampa did last year with TBIT's purchase of Southport Stevedores and Garrison Stevedoring Inc.