THE UK's largest ports and ferries operator was reported to be a £3 billion takeover target of a Middle Eastern rival. P&O could receive an approach from Dubai Ports World (DPW) as soon as this week after it hired Deutsche Bank to advise it on a bid, according to The Sunday Times. The Middle Eastern firm is understood to have contacted banks about financing a bid for P&O, which owns 27 container terminals around the world including Southampton and Tilbury in the UK. Takeover interest in UK ports firms has spiralled this year with Mersey Docks & Harbour - the owner of ports at Liverpool, Heysham and the Medway towns of Sheerness and Chatham - bought by Manchester-based Peel Holdings for £780 million. PD Ports, whose PD Teesport site is the UK's second largest port by volume, confirmed earlier this month that it had also received a bid approach. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company is one of the most iconic names in British business and a successful offer would end more than 160 years of corporate history.