AEA Investors, a US based private equity group that counts former BP chief executive Tony Hayward among its advisers, has tabled an offer for Asco, the fast-growing oil and gas logistics business based in Aberdeen.

The US buy-out group is among a handful of private equity bidders including Cinven, Doughty Hanson, Advent International and Montagu Private Equity that have submitted second-round offers for Asco, three people familiar with the situation said.

Most, if not all, offers value the company at about £275m ($428m) in what is being described as a very tight bidding race. Asco provides logistics services such as running supply bases and transporting hazardous waste for the oil and gas industry.

AEA Investors has $3.6bn in mid-market private equity assets under management.

The reclusive New York-based group also offices in London, Munich, Hong Kong and Shanghai and describes itself as a pioneer in private equity, having been founded 43 years ago by the Rockefeller, Mellon, and Harriman families and by SG Warburg.

Its adviser, Tony Hayward, recently staged a comeback to the oil industry by using Vallares, a cash shell he set up with financier Nat Rothschild, for a $2.1bn deal to buy Genel Energy, a company with oil interests in Kurdistan, Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern province.

Asco is being sold by Phoenix Equity Partners, a mid-market private equity group that focuses on UK based companies in a broad range of sectors.

The auction highlights how the attention of private equity groups is turning towards medium-sized transactions as the sovereign debt crisis in Europe has all but dried out the market for large buy-out deals.

Advisory boutique Lexicon Partners started the sales process for Asco this summer.

Phoenix acquired the company in a £125m deal five years ago and has expanded it rapidly. Asco has more than doubled its revenues from £240m in 2005 to more than £500m in the past year, mainly driven by its geographical diversification beyond its traditional North Sea operations.

It has posted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of about £32m in the past year and its headcount has risen by two-thirds to more than 1,500 in the past five years.

Billy Allen, Asco’s chief executive who joined when Phoenix bought the group, and his management team are expected to stay onboard after a takeover.

AEA, Phoenix and Lexicon Partners all declined to comment.

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