* PE firm Gulf Capital eyeing sale of GMS
* Potential sale seen raising $500 mln - sources
* Credit Suisse advising Gulf Capital on sale
By Dinesh Nair
DUBAI, Jan 17 Abu Dhabi private equity firm Gulf Capital has attracted nearly a dozen initial bids for its Gulf Marine Services unit (GMS), two sources said, with a sale seen generating around $500 million.
Gulf Capital, which has around $1 billion of assets under management, is planning to exit two investments in 2012, including GMS, a regional support barge company, its chief executive told Reuters last year.
"This sale will be a litmus test for other private equity exits in the region. It's a strong asset and the initial interest for it is encouraging," one banking source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Credit Suisse, which is also an investor in Gulf Capital's private equity funds, is advising on the sale, the sources said.
"The firm will be announcing shortly several transactions which are in the closing stage," CEO Karim El Solh said in an e-mailed statement.
Gulf Capital declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Firms in the region have been under pressure to exit some of their investments and return funds to their investors after the industry suffered heavily during the financial crisis.
Last year, leading regional firm, Abraaj Capital sold its stake in Turkish hospital group Acibadem to Malaysia's state-linked investor fund Khazanah Nasional.
Meanwhile, Kuwait's NBK Capital said on Sunday that it sold its Saudi fleet leasing and car rental firm Hanco and may cash out in an initial public offering for its Turkish investment Kilic Deniz.
Private equity investments in the region saw a sharp drop in the last couple of years with investors backing out of capital calls, sellers demanding higher prices than buyers were willing to pay and increasing competition from family groups hampering growth.
GMS' clients include prominent oil and exploration firms such as Saudi Aramco, Qatar Petroleum and ADNOC among others, the firm said on its website.
Gulf Capital owns stake in firms such as healthcare chain Techno Scan and water engineering firm Metito Holdings, according to its website.
Last year, Gulf Capital and another regional PE firm Amwal AlKhaleej sold their stakes in Maritime Industrial Services in a $336 million deal to Lamprell Plc in one of the rare private equity exits from the region. (Additional reporting by Mirna Sleiman; Editing by Amran Abocar and Mike Nesbit)